Army of Shadows (1969) Poster

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9/10
Could Have Been Called "Army of the Dead"
evanston_dad3 April 2008
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?

Grade: A
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8/10
Heroism in its ugly glory, as history tells it
rory-campbell12 February 2008
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.
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9/10
A masterpiece by the book
auberus12 July 2004
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
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9/10
Outstanding--but brutal--film
Red-1252 October 2006
"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.
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far from fake romanticism
Cath-107 November 1998
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.
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9/10
A Classic in World Cinema
GRMacE27 April 2006
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.
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9/10
A grim, austere masterpiece of the French resistance during World War II, by Jean-Pierre Melville
Terrell-42 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"...but I'm going to die and I'm not afraid. It's impossible not to be afraid of dying. But I'm too stubborn, too much of an animal to believe it. If I don't believe it to the very last moment, the last split second, I'll never die." This is Philippe Gerbier speaking. The time is between October, 1942 and February, 1943. He's the leader of a resistance cell in German-occupied France. He was an engineer. Now he is a hard man of skeptical intelligence. He kills a German guard with a knife to the throat so quickly and so unexpectedly it's nerve rattling. In Jean- Pierre Melville's austere, somber Army of Shadows, we follow what happens to Gerbier (Lino Ventura) and a handful of others, primarily Luc Jardie (Paul Meurisse), a weak-seeming intellectual who turns out to be the head of resistance in France; Jean François Jardie (Jean- Pierre Cassel), Luc Jardie's younger brother; and the remarkable Mathilde (Simone Signoret), resourceful with icy nerves, a woman, Gerbier tells us, who is "strong-willed, methodical and patient. She knows both how to command and how to carry out orders." For four months we watch them operating in a claustrophobic environment of matter-of-fact violence, the realities of betrayal, hiding and planning, a life without humor and only cautious trust, and above all else, the goal of killing Germans. That also means the need to kill informers, no matter how young or how respected. They will all probably die.

The movie is really a series of incidents that happen during these four months and how this group must respond: a prison camp and an escape, a shave from a barber who might be a Petainist, the killing of a young informer in an empty house when three of the resistance, including Gerbier, discover they cannot use a gun, there is no knife and finally they decide to use a towel to strangle the man. All the while, gagged and tied, the informer can hear them discuss the problem. This will be the first time any of the three have ever killed a man, and they do it. There's Mathilde's nerve in smuggling a radio through a German cordon, and her attempt to rescue a Resistance comrade from a prison where he has been tortured. There's the death of one of the four, carried out by three. Briefly, at the very end, we read of what happened to the members of this group...a cyanide pill, a beheading, tortured to death, survived. The ending is logical and incredibly sad.

One of the most effective aspects of this movie is how it concentrates on this small group of people. There are no explosions, gun fights, beatings and torture scenes, no gore, no bravado. In fact, there are comparatively few Germans. What there is is the unremitting pressure of discovery, of making a mistake, of tension, of never being able to relax. All the main characters were based on members of the French resistance. The actors are excellent. Lino Ventura dominates his scenes. Signoret is incredible.

This is tragedy, not melodrama, says Amy Taubin, author of an article which appears in the Criterion booklet. When that last note on the screen is finished, we feel exhausted. We have to remind ourselves that the right side won. Otherwise, I, at least, would feel not just respect for these men and women, but also deeply pessimistic. We've gotten to know them. Not to like them; they are too grim and dedicated for that, but to understand them to a degree. We know that if they had never existed there would have been others in their place. But I came to understand that I probably would never have had the fatalism, the nerves or the courage to undertake what they did.

Army of Shadows was shot in color, but the effect has been so deliberately muted that the movie looks as chilly and overcast as the time period.
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10/10
aside from his later crime films, this is Melville at his best, and usual challenging self
Quinoa19847 May 2006
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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10/10
Recommended-now if only Bush, Blair et. al. could only see this they might learn something about patriotism
max von meyerling28 March 2006
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.
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9/10
Melville's Powerful Epic
wglenn2 May 2006
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.
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10/10
Seldom Seen Human's in War and Resistance.
lmoody-14 March 2005
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*
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10/10
Inglorious Basterds
adrongardner27 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
There comes a time when you decide not to run. L'armée des Ombres is perhaps Melville's finest accomplishment. The rain in the opening credits pretty much tells you what you're in for. Torture, murder, futility and the ever-present cloud of endless war, is this the French Resistance in World War II or was it made yesterday? Stylish and sedate, Melville finally took on a subject worthy of his skilled eye above pop heist yarns. He was slammed around during the release because of petty politics, but it holds up like the pyramids today when nobody cares who or what a de Gaul apologist was. This thankless, gritty and thoroughly unglamourus study of an underground militia on the run isn't something you will soon forget.

The most common complaint about the film seems to focus on the pacing and length. This is something I simply do not understand. When L'armée des Ombres finishes, you feel as if you have been through a torrent of experiences just as Gerbier. Any speedier editing and the movie would come off as a popular spy film - and it simply is not a fit for that genre. Even the cinematography tells us it's going to be a dim journey. It feels as if every scene is filmed through a neutral density filter and the blue cast doesn't allow any warmth in whatsoever. Though the framing is often static, there are indeed some breathtaking camera moves at the right moments.

L'armée des Ombres may not have the cool factor of the Delon pictures, but it's got truth on it's side and a truckload of memorable characters and performances. There is a masterwork here for those looking to see something special. If you want something faster, go watch Ocean's 11 and forget what you saw ten minutes later. L'armée des Ombres will stay with you a long time.
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9/10
She said five minutes, but she'll wait a lifetime.
lastliberal26 September 2009
This is a film about real heroes. Not the flashy Rambo kind, but ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things in a time when France had already surrendered to the Germans. They only numbered a few hundred at most, and they walked in the shadows around France knowing that they would certainly die before it was over. Yet, they moved on and did what they had to without complaint or regret.

You won't see bombs blazing and blood and gore. What you will see is real people who agonize over every death that they are forced to carry out. People who knew that every corner held danger and that they could be betrayed at any time.

These are real heroes and this film portrays them as they were in a somber, intelligent, and dark fashion. The film was made and released in 1969, yet it's awards are in 2006 and 2007, when it was restored and finally presented in this country.

As the films of Jean-Pierre Melville are made available, we are able to share in seeing one of the truly great directors in the world. The pleasure is immeasurable.
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A masterpiece
dj_bassett28 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Arguably the finest movie ever made about the French resistance. (The only other film I think ranks with it is the documentary THE SORROW AND THE PITY.) Here it's reimagined in typically Melvillian terms as a glum, stark, rewardless battle for survival -- and, in part, something like "a good death". As I'm sure other commenters have said, it's interesting that for the most part we don't see the Nazis, and they're certainly not represented as "Nazis", a group with a certain set of beliefs or motivations. Rather, it's about battle itself: the constant sense of doom, the tawdry needs for killing former friends, the sense that the only real choices are how one dies. People float a lot of existentialist references around, but I wonder if Melville wasn't more influenced by Hemingway, who had much the same sort of philosophy. It's a genuine classic.
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10/10
Not just Melville's masterpiece but one of the greatest films ever made
burrobaggy20 December 2004
Warning: 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!
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10/10
Blunt, realistic and lacking sentiment or pomp.
MartinHafer25 October 2009
I sure wish that Jean-Pierre Melville had lived longer and been more prolific during his career. In 27 years, he only wrote and directed 14 films--a very modest output indeed. Yet, despite this, he was responsible for some of the very best films of his era--BOB THE GAMBLER, THE FINGER MAN, THE SAMURAI, SECOND BREATH and this film, ARMY OF SHADOWS--among others. What they all have in common is a wonderful sense of understatement and restraint. In none of these films is there any unnecessary adornment, excess dialog or pretense. They are direct but also a bit muted--making them seem quite real. Because of this, it's understandable why he was so strongly associated with the French New Wave. However, his films really aren't like those of other New Wave directors--lacking the sentiment of Truffaut or Rohmer as well as the bizarreness (and pretentiousness) of Godard. For me, his is my favorite of these directors--making simple and darn good movies...period.

ARMY OF SHADOWS is a very simple story of a man who was one of those in charge of the French Underground during WWII. While it could have been glamorized, or "sexed up", instead it was done in a straight forward manner--and the film worked wonderfully. Lino Ventura was great as the leading man--ordinary looking yet also tough and weathered looking. He was very much in his element playing this role. And, aside from Simone Signoret (sort of like a French version of Honor Blackman), the rest of the actors also have an ordinariness about them that makes the film work well. All were excellent actors, but no matinée idols good looks among them. In particular, Paul Meurisse was a wonderful supporting actor as the man in charge, though his was a smaller role than Ventura's.

Simple, gritty and very deliberately paced, this film is simple yet terrific.
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Somber and reflective view of the French resistance
Camera-Obscura6 January 2007
ARMY IN THE SHADOWS (Jean-Pierre Melville - France/Italy 1969).

Jean-Pierre Melville's work features basically two themes: the world of crime and the French resistance. In Melville's eyes, these two worlds are very much the same. The gangster codes he adopted for many of his films were based largely on the codes of the French resistance and his own experiences during the German occupation (not the other way round as some people suggested).

Melville must be the most celebrated French director at this point in the U.S, after the re-release of "Army in the Shadows" in 2006, that was almost universally applauded by the critics as a work of genius or a forgotten masterpiece. Now, in many ways this is a good film, but something is missing, and I can't really put my finger on it. Perhaps it's the clinically almost surreal interaction between the characters, that worked so well in Melvile's gangsters film, but here he is depicting (admittedly his own ) reality and very much his personal take on French resistance, where "real life" plays a much greater part than in the surreal settings of many of his gangster films, but it doesn't feel that way when watching this. The film is languidly paced with a slow build-up, but never really catches fire. With Melville's characteristically cold - almost clinical - direction, it's partly captivating in parts, but perhaps the tone is a little too detached for my taste. He certainly takes his time to tell the story, but the acting is first class with Lino Ventura and Simone Signouret giving memorable performances among a first-rate cast.

Camera Obscura --- 7/10
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10/10
Breathtaking
praxis1966-125 September 2009
As I watched this film, it never occurred to me that a working knowledge of World War II history might actually be a prerequisite to enjoying it. To my mind, Jean-Pierre Melville's meditation on the French Resistance needed no preface since its subtext was one of existential angst, the backdrop of occupied France merely serving as a backdrop.

However, as one reviewer complained, the primary characters in 'Army of Shadows' spent the bulk of their time in self-preservation rather than actually fighting the Germans. He was annoyed that the focal group never seemed to accomplish anything aside from the occasional jail break, and places the qualifier of 'I'm no historian' on his remarks. Clearly.

The truth is that this movie takes place during 1942, a relatively early stage in both the war and the occupation. At the time, there was barely a Resistance of which to speak. Hence, what little anti-Nazi fighting force did exist at the time had two primary concerns: recruitment and survival. It wasn't until the Germans began impressing every able bodied man into forced labor in 1943 (in what was then called Service du travail obligatoire or STO) that the Maquis really gained in number and began to have success against their occupiers. In other words, until the average Frenchman was given the options of either Resistance or concentration camp, most lived cowering in quiet acquiescence. To criticize the movie for refusing to abandon history in favor of satisfying this or that viewer's infantile need for some satisfaction is just childish. Re-writing history in this manner would have done a disservice to the men and women involved.

At any rate, you may have already sensed from this review the tone of the movie: bleak. The entire palette is one of muted blues, gray, and black. The weather is perpetually cloudy. The characters are constantly at odds with both their prospects of success and themselves.

Constantly running and hiding, Melville's subjects participate in actions of questionable ethics. Their portrayal, as anyone who has seen his earlier works Le Cercle Rouge and Le Samourai can tell you, is essentially that of the gangster. The French public at large objected to this characterization, yet a good number of the veterans of this conflict either came forward in the press or contacted Melville directly to congratulate and thank him for his obvious depth of understanding of their plight. In this sense, 'Army' is worth seeing for its historic value, if nothing else. Incidentally, it is noteworthy to make mention of the fact that unlike a good number of other war movies (in which the participants are dyed in the wool believers in the cause and therefore beyond introspection), here our protagonists often openly and plainly question themselves and each other, and whether their desired ends really do justify the means they use to get them.

As for the acting, the quiet desperation so elegantly displayed by Jean-Pierre Cassel as well as the stoic pragmatic hopefulness portrayed by Simone Signoret are two tours de force. In each, we see the kind of power and bravado one only finds in a man at gallows edge. The subtle depth of their performances does the unimaginably cumbersome heavy lifting required by a film of such profundity.

Finally, Army of Shadows is compelling on levels which are completely external to the film itself. Both its philosophical base and its depressive outlook lodge it squarely on level pegging with the literature of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus as well as being reflective of the general mood in France at the time. This, despite the fact that most of the French who saw it were dismayed at the mistakenly perceived heroic appearance of Charles de Gaulle who had recently been colored a villain for his treatment of the Paris Commune (though in the film he's portrayed as ironic, pinning useless medals on the chests of our 'heroes,' who obviously view them with contempt).

At any rate, I would suggest any reader of this review to not just see this movie but really watch it. It is extremely subtle; oftentimes the most pivotal moments are understated to say the least, with what's not said being more important than what is.

In any event, a perfect 10/10 goes to this cold, cloudy, quietly desperate diamond of a film.
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10/10
The Underground Hand of Power
nycritic27 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Despite the cloying presence of World War II, ARMY OF SHADOWS is less about this war than about an grim ambiance, an attitude towards the state of affairs, and the lengths to which a small group of people with hearts of stone and wills of steel will do in order to fight their causes. In essence, they are the real fighters -- the anonymous, the unseen, the "shadow army" that move like chameleons from scene to scene, fulfill their mission, and move on to the next, with the omnipresence of death as just another shadow that could materialize at any given moment.

Because of the crosses and double crosses that occur within the story, ARMY OF SHADOWS is a little hard to follow at times. This review is following a second viewing at the Quad Cinema in New York City, and by the second time I felt I had a grasp on the complicated set of stories that follow the main characters. I understood, for example, the need to eliminate a Simone Signoret's character whose only crime was to have carried the photo of her daughter, and how Lino Ventura's character, a man who initially bonds with her, has no other choice because to allow her to live would mean the eventual dissolution of their tight organization. The way they arrive to a final agreement is horrific as is the moment she gets gunned down by her allies.

A movie about grim choices -- to run or not to run, to jump or not to jump, to act or to remain inactive, to erase every vestige of one's own identity or to leave a door ajar as a foolish decision, ARMY OF SHADOWS is one of these movies that has extreme moments of discomfort that rival many of Hitchcock's better sequences in his spy movies -- as in the early elimination by strangulation by a member. I'm not surprised that it's taken this long for it to reach these shores, but then I'm surprised at how American directors have borrowed from it, as Spielberg in MUNICH, down to its hopeless, cynical tone. Tight performances from everyone including Paul Meurisse, and an absorbing movie even when a little confusing here and there.
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9/10
Stunning Film of a dark part in history
t-dooley-69-38691617 May 2015
"L'armée des ombres" was made in 1969 to tell the true story of part of the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of World War II. It centres around Philippe Gerbier and his cell of operatives. He is given up by a traitor and sent to a concentration camp, but he manages to escape and takes up the fight again.

This documents the very real way that they had to operate and it is done in a completely unvarnished way. They had to be ruthless but often lacked the efficiency and / or training to do things properly. It is filmed in a way that emphasises the coldness of the time. There is a constant sense of unease and looming disaster throughout that keeps you entranced. At one point Gerbier says 'all debts are paid in the end' in a prophetic statement of their inevitable fate.

Starring screen great Lino Ventura as Gerbier who apparently refused to talk directly to the director for the duration of filming. Brilliantly supported by Simone Signoret as Mathilde in a role where she simply steals every scene and this is where minimalism is the by word, so some achievement. There are a number of films that all cinephiles need to see and I believe that this is arguably one of them it is certainly one of French cinemas finest films and a very fitting tribute to the members of the Resistance that are depicted here.
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7/10
Intelligent film about French Resistance , being deliberately shot by the great Jean Pierre Melville
ma-cortes20 March 2015
Exciting chronicle about freedom fighters with extraordinary plethora of famous French actors , being set during WWII when occupied France was divided in two zones : Nazi and Vichy region under command of General Petain . The film concerns about the resistance people , their remarkable acts of courage , fights , treason and many other things . French Resistance groups confront to regain their country from the Nazis , who rule tyrannically the nation and detailing the years before the liberation . It is starred by Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) , a civil engineer, is one of the French Resistance's chiefs , he is interned in a concentration camp , being doublé-crossed and given away by a traitor . He manages to getaway , and joins other leaders and freedom fighters (Paul Meurisse , Jean-Pierre Cassel , Paul Crauchet ,Simone Signoret) at Marseilles , where he gets the traitor to be executed by his colleagues .

This is an interesting and thought-provoking account of underground resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied France , 1942, during the occupation . This bears remarkable resemblance to ¨Is Paris burning ?¨ the latter is a spectacular pseudo-documentary style developing the liberation of Paris with the Resistance factions and tryings to burn the city by Nazy hierarchy ; however , ¨Army of shadows¨ results to be a non-spectacular movie and has a slow-moving developing . 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 , as he ended up casting dancers to correctly provide the march steps he wanted from the soldiers . The short details-roles about freedom fighters leaders only for a minutes are based on the stories of real-life people . It shows us slowly but deeply the everyday of the French Resistants , their fears , their betrays , their solitude , their turbulent relationships , attacks against Nazis , the detentions , killings , the forwarding of hard orders and their carrying out . It's a nice production French with a plethora of international French actors, all of them give over-the-top performances such as Lino Ventura , Paul Meurisse , Jean-Pierre Cassel , Simone Signoret and Serge Reggniani . However , during the shooting of this film , Lino Ventura and the director Jean-Pierre Melville did not speak to each other , as they only communicated through assistants . The motion picture displays a brooding script by writers who lived those days , they give you a much better perspective about role each Resistance . Both writer Joseph Kessel and co-writer and director Jean-Pierre Melville belonged to this "Army in the Shadows". Evocative as well as atmospheric photography by cinematographer Pierre Lhomme ; however , the print of the film had turned completely pink with age and later on , he supervised the digital restoration .

The picture was well directed by Jean Pierre Melville, being rigorously and austerely shot in a memorable work and following his particular style . Later beginnings as a post-war forerunner of the 'Nouvelle vague' left his style in several different ways as a purveyor of a certain kind of noir movie, creating his own company and a tiny studio . Although retaining its essential French touch and developing a style closer to the world of the American film noir of the 1940s than any of their other such forays . Studio-character about personages damned to inevitable tragedies, powerful finale, stylized set pieces heightens the suspense and tension have place in all Melville's film-making . His movies and singular talent are very copied and much-admired by contemporary directors, specially the 'Polar' or noir French cinema, such as, 'Le samurai', 'Second breath', 'The red circle', 'Dirty money' and 'Army of the shadows' resulted to be one of the best films . Rating : Better than average . Wortwhile watching .
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6/10
The Hardships of Resistance
Eumenides_028 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of the Shadows attempts to portray the harsh existence of the French Resistance members in Nazi-occupied France. One of the things I loved about this movie, and which I love in all Melville's movies, is that it's not romantic. In fact the movie goes to great lengths to show that the Resistance seldom achieved anything. Its members' great triumph was keeping out of jail, staying alive and occasionally helping some people get out of France and to England.

Melville portrays the members as people living on their own, alone and suspicious about everything and everyone. Sometimes they had to be ruthless like when one of their own betrayed them. Sometimes they'd chicken out and disappear (understandably, no man should be judged for that). It's not a glamorous or fascinating life. But Melville's characters don't waste time or words on discussing ideals and beliefs. For them fighting Nazis is an understated mission and is explained by itself. They're conscious that they're not much, that in the end they'll all end up caught, but fighting is their only option.

Although slower and more introspective than Melville's sophisticated heist movies, Army of the Shadows is an interesting movie to watch, if only to see Melville doing what he does best: taking all the glamour and glitter from his heroes and portraying them as normal people caught in a complicated world.
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10/10
An existential masterpiece about the darkest period of French history ...
ElMaruecan8210 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A combination of lonely lives constituting a singular force destined to fight the Nazi occupation; this is Melville's epic tragedy of ordinary heroes, "Army of Shadows". A movie poorly received at the time of its release in 1969 when De Gaulle was considered as an old-fashioned relic and "Army of Shadows" a conservative movie. Thankfully, time did justice to the film, which, after 40 years, is regarded as one of the greatest and darkest depictions of a period where life was outweighed by honor.

This is a movie of an era where duty transcended every element of a fragile but historically significant organization: the Resistance. No place for the individual, the strength came from unity and secrecy. This secrecy gave the 'gangster' feeling to the film with its gallery of characters, the towering presence of 'Le Bison', Felix, the man with the bowler hat and the central character, Philippe Gerbier, a no-nonsense solidly built engineer, played by the extraordinary Lino Ventura, embodying all the irony and tragedy of the Resistance: fighting against an outnumbering enemy, which means, a sentence to death, perpetually postponed. Even Britain, their greatest ally didn't trust their power enough and were afraid of wasting weapons. In one scene, they didn't even have a silencer to execute a traitor. How futile was this War, but how vital.

This futility was one of the necessary steps before the ultimate victory, but most of these men who fought in the early years knew they wouldn't survive the war. That's why they carried pills of cyanide in case of being caught. Melville was a member of the Resistance and so was the writer of the book, the Academician Joseph Kessel, from which this masterpiece was adapted; so the film couldn't have been more faithful to the truth. And carrying your own death in your pocket is the most eloquent expression of its vicious unpredictability. Death was as familiar as life during WWII, a life made of duty and survival. Never in the film, these 'Resistants' seemed to have a break, except maybe during the London trip, their life was about planning and executing, sometimes orders, sometimes men, with what was at hands.

And sometimes there was nothing at hands: a traitor must be executed but no silencers, no knives, only three men, Gerbier, his friend Felix, and a young overly confident upstart. What followed was one of the most haunting deaths I had ever seen. And this is a credit to Melville's directing; no dialogs, no words, only looks, and the agonizing sound of a man whose soul is progressively fading. This was a scene painful to watch, emotionally, as it looked obviously painful for the executioners ... it was all in the faces, and the cries of the younger whose immersion was also ours. This scene helped to face death in the later ones.

Because death was everywhere hiding itself in the corner of a street, after a first inspection, through a hand on your shoulders or strangers coming to you … the element of surprise was so vicious that the certitude of death was even more comfortable. That's the point of torture for keeping alive and condemning to a slower death that'd test your moral resistance. Basically, when you see Nazi treatments, you realize how lucky were the ones who carried death in their pocket and had time to use it. Worse than torture, they also killed your death through the anonymous execution so you could die as a coward when you actually were a hero. Like Jean-François Jardie (Jean-Pierre Cassel) the handsome pilot who sacrificed his life and his reputation to die as an anonymous hero, unknowing that his brother Luc, played by the great Paul Meurisse, was the leader of the Resistance, the two brothers will die, survived by that ironic secret. But this only matters for the witnesses of the film, these considerations were nothing since the individual was nothing. Individual recognition might come after the war, or not, the outcome of this War is beyond individual fame, it's about moral duty.

This was indeed a doomed time, where each mistake could lead to death. When Mathilde disguised as a German Nurse and was told that Felix couldn't be transported because he was agonizing, she didn't show any emotions and left the prison. And despite all this perfectionism, she made a fatal mistake by keeping the photography of her daughter, a weapon the Germans used to blackmail her. How could such an intelligent woman not follow Philippe's advice and commit such a mistake. This is the whole point, despite everything, they're human, and sometimes, a last sacred link deserves to be cherished. Death was close, but it was hard to believe in, to feel it, as long as life was here. That was their dilemma: how could you feel detached, when you're too stubbornly attached to life, to admit the simple concept of death, this admission is your strength but also your weakness. This is Philippe's weakness that made him run under the German fire. Choosing to run as an existentialist expression of your will to live even in an ugly word, the unknown is always scarier.

Melville's movie is cold, with dark and cold colors, a lot of clear blue, of gray and white, classical pieces of music accentuating the melancholic premonition of death. Long shots of people running to their lives, meeting anonymous helpers like the barber who gave Philippe another raincoat, or potential traitors like Paul or who knows, Mathilde? After all, Mathilde's look on her face when 'Le Bison' shot her, is full of ambiguity. Maybe this was one of the reasons of individual recognition's futility; you never know what hides beneath a conscience. What characterize a member of the Resistance are his acts, recognized or not, all that matters is fighting for victory. A victory, none of our ordinary heroes would witness anyway.
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7/10
Original but Missing Explanations
claudio_carvalho24 February 2015
In 1942, in France, the engineer and chief of a cell of resistance Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) is arrested and sent to a prisoner camp. He succeeds to escape and together with Felix Lepercq (Paul Crauchet) and the resistance killer Claude "The Mask" Ullmann (Claude Mann), they kidnap the traitor that gave him away to the Germans and execute him. Gerbier travels to London to discuss external support to the resistance and meanwhile Felix is captured by the Germans and tortured. The resistance members Mathilde (Simone Signoret), Guillaume "Bison" Vermersch (Christian Barbier) and the Mask unsuccessfully try to rescue him. But the brother of the resistance chief Luc Jardie (Paul Meurisse), Jean François Jardie (Jean-Pierre Cassel), sacrifices himself to have the chance to give a cyanide pill to Felix. Along the months the group operates until the day one member is captured by the Germans and becomes a threat to the others and shall be executed.

"L'armée des ombres" is another long movie directed by Jean-Pierre Melville about members of the French Resistance in the World War II. The movie has great performances, locations, set decoration, costumes and cinematography. However, the original plot does not show any French Resistance operation against Germans the way we used to see in other movies. The movie gives the sensation that the members fight only for their self-preservation during the war. Gerbier flees easily from the Germans and in situations not believable. Mathilde's mistake is silly and also unbelievable for a woman with her profile. But the worst situation is when Mathilde and the two killers go to the Gestapo's headquarter without any explanation how they have gotten the documents and with two guys that do not speak German. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "O Exército das Sombras" ("The Army of the Shadows")
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A gritty, harrowing story of WWII - but not one of the director's masterpieces
R. J.27 December 2002
This sprawling adaptation of Joseph Kessel's novel of wartime heroism in the French Resistance was a long-cherished project of French film noir stylist Jean-Pierre Melville. Probably because it is an adaptation rather than an original script, the film has problems of length, rhythm and tempo, but that only helps it become graver, more disturbing. It follows the exploits of a half-dozen Resistants during six months of German occupation in France between October 1942 and February 1943, and Melville deliberately purges the story of any heroic romanticism, playing up its merciless survivalist elements (like killing one of their own to ensure the movement's survival, or maintaining one's real identity secret) and depicting the courage and heroism of the Resistant more as a routine burden. The fact that the film ends on a downbeat note is not exactly casual, since it only underlines the high cost that the Resistance paid for its stand for freedom; Melville's emphasis on the honour codes of loyalty that were integral to his masterful thrillers like "Le Samouraï" or "Le Cercle Rouge" is put to good use here, especially since their use in crime stories descended precisely from the Resistance codes. And his austere, stylized handling is as good as it ever was, despite a production that is shoddier than usual (locations and trickwork don't really cut well with the film's forlorn look, especially since the copies currently doing the rounds on TV and video have some contrast problems). The actors are uniformly stunning (especially Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret) but, probably because he was too close to the story, it's not one of the director's masterpieces.
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