France, 1942, under German occupation. Philippe Gerbier, a civil engineer, is a French Resistance commandant. Denounced by a French collaborator, he is interned in a concentration camp. He manages to escape, and rejoins his network in Marseille, where he has the traitor executed. This movie reveals rigorously and austerely what life was like in the French Resistance: the solitude and fear of its members; their relationships with one another; the constant threat of arrest by the Gestapo; the Resistance command structure and the way its orders were carried out. Head writer Joseph Kessel and co-writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville were both veterans of the "Shadow Army".Written by
For the shot depicting German soldiers marching down the Champs Elysees, Jean-Pierre Melville thought that it would be impossible to get regular Frenchmen to provide the proper marching movements. He ended up casting dancers to correctly provide the march steps he wanted from the soldiers. This shot was originally the last in the film and prints were sent to theaters with it in that place. After the first showings, Melville decided the scene was better placed at the start of the film and it was physically spliced into the new position. This apparently resulted in several missing frames in the negative. These frames were restored from another source when the 2005 digital restoration was accomplished. See more »
In the end, it says "dimanche 23 février 1943" (Sunday, 23rd February, 1943) even though it was a Tuesday. See more »
Claude Ullmann dit 'Le Masque':
Still thinking about the others?
[referring to the resistance fighters, who, like him, were targets in the German shooting gallery]
No, I was thinking of the officer who was sure I'd run too. Like a scared rabbit...
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Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" is a sombre film about the French Resistance during WWII. It's yet one more movie that makes me feel like I have a terrible grasp of history, as I knew virtually nothing about the movement before seeing this. Melville himself was a member of the Resistance, so I can only assume that his film is fairly accurate. It's powerful, but not obviously so. It doesn't inspire tremendous reactions or emotions while viewing it, but it gets in your head and stays there.
The film is lacking any of that championing of the underdog spirit that infuses so many other stories about scrappy groups resisting the tyranny of the powerful. The members of the French Resistance in this film live like unearthly beings, skittering from one shadowy doorway to another, trying to erase any sign of themselves. The movie suggests that this need for non-existence bleeds into their psychology as well -- the film's main character becomes nearly inhuman in his devotion to the cause and his ability to ruthlessly do away with colleagues when there's a chance that one of them might jeopardize the others. He's not inhuman, but he must do inhuman things, because the desperation of his and his comrades' situations calls for it.
The Criterion Collection's print of the film looks terrific, or at least as terrific as the film's dreary pallet of grey and brown will allow. Melville gives the film an authentic look -- only some scenes set in the London blitz and on an aircraft carrier have a studio set look to them.
A shot of the Arc di Triomphe both opens and closes the film: a symbol of the France that would eventually emerge from the dark days of WWII, or an ironic jab at a country that can't take much credit for fighting off the tyranny of fascism?
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