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Today, watching a film like Mr.and Mrs. North (2005) or one of the
Bourne or Mission Impossibles or any of the current crop of 'action'
films up to and including the latest Kung Fu spectacular with
invulnerable flying fighting machines, seems to have rendered the genre
into a profitable degeneracy rendering the depiction of actual human
beings or their cinematic similitude obsolete as cave paintings. That
anyone could be entertained by the goings on of a Charlie's Angles
movie puzzles me. I do know there is no audience for a genuine film
detailing the lives and works of a genuine underground resistance like
that of the French during the German Nazi occupation.
This might be the most mundane, matter-of-fact war movie since Robert Montgomery's overlooked masterpiece The Gallant Hours. This is because the people, patriots all, who rose to fight, were pretty ordinary people from rather prosaic walks of life. When it come to resisting a foreign tyranny in the form of an occupying army it isn't a bunch of professionally trained assassins who can be counted on but politically aware citizens who organize. These are ordinary people who had to rise to a situation. It is pure Existentialism.
This is a very spare, almost Jansenist version of the true story of the French Resistance. This Melville is, as usual, the opposite side of the coin from his twin, Robert Bresson. At one point the central character played by Lino Ventura, escapes by simply running away. He is helped along the way by a man who doesn't even mention the situation or his role in assisting. Its just done because that is what one does. The German's are hardly seen as this film is simply not about them. Each death, there are very, very few of them, is a moral and ethical agony. At least for the resistance. The torture scenes are all off camera.
Directoral moments are minimal, such as when Ventura buys a new suit and shoes and then must leave them behind. Its like what soldiers say about combat, extreme longueurs of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.
The truth behind the story is that the German Gestapo commander, Klaus Barbie, the so called Butcher of Lyon, was a war criminal who was spirited out of Europe after the war by the US to train military regimes in South America in the techniques of torture that he perfected in France.
In one of the set pieces British STOL Lysander aircraft land to and take off to bring certain resistance members to London. This scene features the actual aircraft. This was particularly amazing as most Melville films suffer from budgetary constrictions which usually effect the realism of certain scenes (see the helicopter/train transfer in Un Flic) and there were possibly only two airworthy Lysanders at the time of the filming of L' Armée des ombres. The parachuting scene is also so nicely judged in its almost prosaic ordinariness, yet we know its still a jump into the seemingly limitless darkness, but which would aggravate the ADD generation. The dry, almost Islandic renderings of scenes, sometimes to the level of an Industrial film, reminds me of the flat rendering Truffaut did of simply fueling a car at a service station in Le Peau Douce. This is why Melville and Bresson were the honorary mentors of the New Wave. It was a further adaptation of Realism and neo-realism but with an awareness that at all times it was a film and therefore an adaption of reality but distorted only to make the truth more vivid.
It is a pity if, as I think, this film will fail to connect with a generation saturated on the super hero shenanigans of SFX dare-a-doings. One writer pointed out the ridiculousness of someone deliberately sending himself to prison in order to deliver a cyanide capsule, totally discounting true sacrifice for the type of action where the pretty actors manage to survive almost any cataclysm so that in the end, after the death of countless nameless and faceless minions and the elimination of the satanic villain-in-chief, while ankle deep in gore, they can have a nice chuckle. Hey babes, that's entertainment.
Looking at the restored version of L' Armée des ombres just emphasizes the death of film culture, not because there are no writers and directors who can make films like this but because there are no audiences for films like this. Highly recommended.
This is probably one of the best fiction movies ever made on the French resistance during Worl War II. Far from the usual romantic cliches showing handsome young men playing tricks with the Nazis and falling in love with sublime women, the substance of the movie is reality. It depicts a "shadow army" made of courageous men who are ready to sacrifice their lives but are aware of the huge cost they will eventually have to pay. It shows the cruel and sometimes inhuman choices they have to make in order to survive. This is a very useful movie that gives a real hint of what resistance truly was.
Never before (and after) a movie on French Resistance has been so
"glamourless". Jean-Pierre Melville has been hailed as the father of
the French gangster film. Certainly, his gangster films are probably
the films for which he is best known (Le Doulos, Deuxieme Soufflé, Le
Samourai, Le cercle rouge, Bob le flambeur) on par if not better than
anything which Hollywood produced. Yet the world of the anonymous
gun-toting hoodlum occupies only a part of his oeuvre.
'L'armee des ombres' (aka The Shadow Army) is Jean Pierre Melville 1969 masterpiece and does not deal with gangsters. The film is a mix of the director's war time experiences in the French Resistance and Joseph Kessel successful wartime novel. What is remarkable about this film is that Melville turned a mosaic of anecdotes that Kessel's novel is all about into a great, dark epic.
From the chilling opening shot of Germans marching down the Champs-Elysées to the final scene involving the fellow Resistant Mathilde (the great Simone Signoret) the film seems to demonstrate that fighting for an ideal often leads towards death and solitude. What Melville does successfully is to show those dead-ends the way they occur to their protagonist (very simply and minimalist), however more than showing them Mr. Melville managed to make these realities (death and solitude) an equally tragic experienced for the audience...
'L'armee des ombres' is Melville's most moving film, a monument to the spirit of the Resistance rather than its actuality. A poignant drama with a strong performance from not only Lino Ventura but also Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Jean Pierre Cassel, Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet to name a few.
This is probably Melville's greatest cinematographic achievement and, when fiction becomes reality, when actors leave behind their egos to resurrect into heroes, when the colors of the film mirror the one of the soul and when silence becomes music, true cinema has been achieved 'L'armee des ombres' is a terrible yet powerful experience in which the words duty, courage, abnegation get charged with meaning
I saw this brilliant drama-piece a long time ago and it bound me to my
chair. I couldn't move. It is so dramatic and meaningful, and full of
betrayal. A choice of life and death never before so condemning in film
registered as Jean Pierre Melville himself. He was here recounting his
memory as a underground member.
Never before I saw a movie where betrayal had such an impact. I wanted to scream and to help them, but Melville does a little about that.
Spend a lot of nights with bad dreams and a complete loss of human insight.
This masterwork deserves the maximum score. 10*
If you have any interest whatsoever in French cinema, World War II,
moral ambiguity, or Simone Signoret, see this film.
Filmed in a cold, documentary-like style, the "Shadow Army" tells the intertwining stories of several members of the French resistance. The movie defies any sort of simple categorization. It is a thriller without being thrilling. It is a spy story without a single gadget. It portrays the tedium of the task without being boring. Finally, it tells a story of heroic courage without the benefit of a single hero. That last point isn't immediately evident and you are free to disagree, of course, but heroes (as defined in the usual movie terms) are hard to come by in this story.
A popular adage goes; one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. This movie serves up proof to that lie. There are true freedom fighters that will never be labeled "terrorist" and you will meet them during the course of this film. The movie makes clear that they, and the ones around them, paid a high price in pursuit of freedom. Not just in life and limb, but in moral conviction. As the movie unfolds, I found myself asking, is this action justified? The answer, of course, is that it most certainly is. The better question is would I, or anyone I know, have the courage to do what had to be done.
The technical aspects of the film are all first rate even though a bit below the best of European cinema at the time. (In some ways, the lack of high definition color and sets give it a feel much more in keeping with the time it portrays.) The actors disappear into their roles and there is not a star-turn to be found.
According to the announcement made before the screening I attended, it is being released in the United States on May 12, 2006, just before the summer blockbuster crush. Why that date and why now, almost 30 years after it was made, I do not know. My guess is it probably has something to do with money. (Doesn't it always?) Whatever the reasons, skip the Tom Cruise vehicle and don't miss the opportunity to see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It took me a long time to track this on down (thanks to another IMDb
poster), and I'd heard so many posters on the European Film board
raving about it for years, so I was a bit worried it'd turn out to be a
disappointment. Seeing it in unsubtitled french didn't help, with my
French not exactly great. but, lucky enough, the film isn't too
dialogue-heavy and even more lucky, it really is a masterpiece. How
good? I'd actually put it down as the best film I've seen this year.
Part gangster movie, part documentary in its style, it's a great look at the doomed lives of a group of resistance workers in occupied France. No big movie heroics, no big explosions, just lots of tension and having to deal with the awful details, like killing an informer in the most practical way possible, each new job taking a little bit more of their humanity away, often losing their lives and making no difference. And the end caption revealing the fate of the characters really hit me hard.
Excellent performances too, especial kudos to Lino Ventura's weary and watchful lead and Jean-Pierre Cassel, but the whole cast are superb. And so many great scenes, like the improvised escape via a barbershop or the moment when Ventura gives away his last cigarettes to other prisoners because he knows they'll all be shot in a few minutes time. I can't speak highly enough of this one and really hope that Criterion will do this sooner rather than later - but why didn't the BFI release it with their batch of Melville DVDs earlier this year? So good I'm going to watch it again this week.
I definitely think a petition to Criterion is in order here!
"L'Armée des ombres" (1969) was shown in the U.S as "Army of Shadows."
The film is co-written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.
The time is 1942 and the setting is France. Lino Ventura plays Philippe Gerbier, a high-ranking officer in the French resistance. Gerbier is intelligent, resourceful, and brave. He and his small band of urban fighters are constantly in danger of capture and torture by the Nazis. This isn't a film of rural partisans--it's a film where people meet in cafés and offices. No one knows when Nazi soldiers or Gestapo will sweep down and drag them off. No meeting is safe, and no relationship is safe either--how many people can remain silent under savage tortures that go on for days?
Although Ventura is excellent in the role, the movie is dominated by Simone Signoret as Mathilde--tougher and braver than any of the men, but possessing one terrible weakness.
This movie is different than most films about the French Resistance. Things don't go smoothly, they don't go well, fear is everywhere, and heroism often takes place in a prison cell where no one ever learns of it. It's fascinating, but grim.
"Army of Shadows" is a neglected film by a great director. It's definitely worth seeking out.
This is a tough, somber film that captures the absurdities involved in
war, and, ultimately, in life. The French Resistance "heroes" in the
story are never shown conducting sabotage or planned attacks against
the Germans, as one would get in a traditional World War II movie.
Instead, we follow their claustrophobic and paranoid lives as they move
from one hiding place to another (or one prison to another), constantly
hounded by those in power, haunted by their own actions and the
inability to communicate with those dear to them. Melville shows us
their doubts and questions as they deal with betrayal, cowardice, and
the murky ethics of killing their own to preserve the larger good.
Every episode in the film seems to lead to a darkly ironic conclusion, and the meaninglessness of their efforts becomes almost overwhelming, except that, somehow, these ordinary people continue to offer resistance in the face of death, so that their heroism lies not in the ability to stop the Germans but in taking action at all while facing the abyss.
While the acting is excellent all around, Lino Ventura's performance as Gerbier deserves special attention. It's hard to imagine any other actor bearing the tremendous weight of this film as well as he does. Gabin, at an earlier age, might have had the physical and emotional strength, but I'm not sure he would've been capable of Ventura's unassuming portrayal, which is so necessary for his character. The "shadows" at the core of this tale are seriously dark, and Ventura's Gerbier is strong enough to face them, yet modest enough to realize he can't conquer them on his own. The only way the Resistance makes sense by the end of this film, is in the collective effort of its members. Similarly, each of us, individually, cannot conquer death, but we as a group of human beings can continue to live on. _L'Armée des ombres_ ultimately moves beyond a story of the French Resistance in World War II and serves as a powerful existentialist epic, with Ventura's performance responsible for much of the film's dignity and humanity.
As with _Léon Morin, prêtre_ (1961), another story set during the war, Melville seems more emotionally present in _L'Armée des ombres_ than he does in his policiers or noir pieces, and after seeing the film, his overall body of work suddenly seems much heftier. While the movie isn't as visually daring of some of his other works, it has a dark beauty all its own, and his pacing, editing, shot selection, and use of sound show him in great artistic control. Forty-eight hours after seeing it, I still find myself caught in its world.
Based on truth, the Army in the Shadows takes the French men and women of the Resistance as its theme, at a point near the end of the war when the Resistance movement and Nazi intelligence about its work and staff are both firmly established. As well as giving a thrilling history lesson in the workings of the Resistance, from the rural ladies who operated safe houses, to the chateaux-dwelling aristocrats whose lawns played host to light aircraft smuggling collaborators in and out of France, it also is a fascinating essay on the gruesome realities of heroism: including moments of hopelessness and complete failure of nerve. Events test our group of collaborators, so that each one bumps up against his or her personal limit, as to what they are intelligent enough to understand, brave enough to endure, and determined enough to achieve. Excellently acted and directed, it is a classic uncompromising Melville thriller.
Jean Pierre Melville, writer/director of Army of Shadows, has said in
interviews that the book of which he based his movie from is considered
THE book on the French resistance in the second world war. While I can
only speculate as to this film being THE film of its category, as I've
yet to see other films on the resistance, it sets quite a high standard
for painting a very calculated, perfectly cool (or cold on your POV)
piece of film-making on the subject. It's basically as if Melville,
having lived through the period- this being perhaps an even more
personal film than his other crime films- still takes on some of the
true knacks of what he does in the rest of his oeuvre. Taking
characters who go by codes of loyalty, professional as can be, and in a
true underground in society. However this time their opponent being the
Germans instead of the police the stakes are raised. Even as a couple
of parts in the middle seem to shake with the deliberate pace Melville
sets a couple of times, the main core of the story and the characters
is remarkable, and honest in a dark, bleak way.
Lino Ventura is at his best as Gerbier, a main man in the French resistance movement, who gets more involved in the proceedings following a brief prison-camp stint (the escape from which is one of the most daring in any film). The film is fairly episodic, however encompassing a group of the resistance people, including Mathilde (Simon Signet, very good as always), Le Masque (Claude Mann), and Jean-Francois (Jean-Pierre Cassel, at a peak as well in his own way). Some of their operations are simple, like retrieving weapons or finding more support through certain channels. Though here and there some payback is in due to the traitors. This becomes a higher issue as the film rolls into its final act, as alliances come into question, and the real ties of humanity together are tested in the midst of the German occupation.
As usual with Melville all of this is told, in its own way, fairly simply- almost clinically- by Melville's camera. There are some zooms here and there, some very intense camera positions (though not awkwardly), and exciting when need be. At the same time, there are some scenes like a short scene on a beach (all blue) or a few others at night or in different lighting modes that are the best Melville's done in the midst of a color scheme used perfectly to correspond with the mood; it works just as well if not better than how he uses it for his crime films. But one of the pleasures of seeing a film like this by a real kind of maverick of European cinema is seeing how much room he gives for his actors. These are not performances that become over-sensational in the slightest. On the contrary, what adds sometimes to the tension in some of the scenes, or the outright tragedy, is how the actors just play as they do professional-wise, sometimes with what's not said meaning more (and how the Melville gets these quiet moments is fantastic). Featuring a superlative musical accompaniment by Eric De Marsan, this is one of the best directed anti-war films ever made.
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