This is what happens when your car breaks down on a Sunday morning and you have nothing else to do…
Army of Shadows
Betrayal. Loyalty. Collaboration. Resistance.
Betrayed by an informant, Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) finds himself trapped in a torturous Nazi prison camp. Though Gerbier escapes to rejoin the Resistance in occupied Marseilles, France, and exacts his revenge on the informant, he must continue a quiet, seemingly endless battle against the Nazis in an atmosphere of tension, paranoia and distrust.
"Unhappy memories! Yet I welcome you, for you are my long lost youth.”
It's hard to feel I have anything definitive to say about so monumental a movie on first viewing. The easiest thing to point out about it is the tragedy of its historical circumstances: it was one of Melville's most personal films, as he was himself a fighter in the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation in World War II, but he didn't live to see his film receive the appreciation it deserved. It was panned by the cahiers du cinema and never made it to the U.S. until 2006, at which point Melville had passed and his film had been critically re-evaluated.
The reason for its initial…
Melville conveys what it is like to live in an occupied country with a single scene.
His main character Philippe Gerbier, a renowned French Resistance organizer, is in London for a series of meetings with the British army. While he is taking a stroll in the evening the bombs start falling and the sirens scream. He quickly finds shelter in a doorway, not sure what else to do, and for the first time in the film we see that he is afraid. He tries the door behind him and finds it unlocked. He opens it, walks in, and is astounded by what he sees.
The room is filled with British army men and women, dancing, drinking, talking, having a good…
It’s been a few days since I’ve watched Melville’s Army of Shadows, and I’ve been haunted. It steals into my thoughts both waking and asleep. I keep being enveloped by a fugue of uncertainty, loneliness, and fear.
Army of Shadows defines heroism. Heroism because you know you can’t win. Heroism because you know you can’t even survive. Heroism because you don’t really have comrades to bolster your bravery and share your fear. You are alone. When you are in the trenches, a bullet can catch you at any moment, but yet you are side by side with your brothers in arms. Here the fear is the hand on your shoulder from behind. Instead of instant death, or a wound you…
An ostensibly bleak almost nihilistic air invades the space around the French Resistance as depicted by Melville. He was a member of the covert movement himself so perhaps better positioned than anyone to tell its story. Any notion of romance or satisfaction gained from their activities is not on show here. Melville tells it as an almost futile battle, like scaling a wall that just keeps on growing taller.
Life for these people seemed to exist for passing the baton when the moment was right, just before the current holder took a fall. Everyone involved knew they had limited time to make their mark. Their capture and death was an inevitability. They could only move in the shadows for so…
Melville got almost everything right here. The actors, the colour, theme, pacing and cinematography. What struck me the most is the seemless link between colour and theme. The cover is blue, as is much of the film, but most striking is a world where nothing is black or white accompanied by a grey tone. If bleak has a colour it's that mix of cold blue and grey.
It's one of these movies that you must see for yourself (and Zap won't stop shouting about it either ), and whatever words I scribble won't do it justice. That, and I've just finished watching it and a better review must wait until a rewatch. Not for the short of breath, though, as…
"It's impossible not to be afraid of dying. But I'm too stubborn, too much 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 good. I'm talking The Godfather good. I'm talking Lawrence of Arabia good. I'm talking *insert a classic movie here* good. Everything that I heard previously about this flick was confirmed when watching it. What a movie.
A somber look on La Résistance and an almost complete lack of action sequences - it's impossible to imagine this movie being made today, certainly not in Hollywood; there are no seductions, no railways being sabotaged and no frantic shootouts in the streets and fields of France. What they are actually accomplishing (besides existing and thus representing a threat) is not explicitly told or shown.
+ It grows on me as I think back at it.
+ The characters felt very realistic.
+ The scene where they wonder and discuss how to go about executing an informant is just superb.
- Felt too many questions were left unanswered, but then this is before the time of Google, both in setting and production...
A good filmmaker will always leave out unimportant details, but a great filmmaker will sometimes leave out details that seem rather important. This is something that characterizes Melville's style of directing. I already had a solidified opinion that Melville is an absolute master of the form and of course this film didn't do anything to alter that opinion. This is probably the closest thing to an accurate "biopic" of a resistance organization in existence, even if it is inclined towards slight glorification of it's subjects. It's not to the point where it gives an unrealistic quality, and let's face it, after being member of the resistance one these glorifying aspects might be in order. Vive la résistance, indeed.
Those shadows are very dark indeed.
Apparently one of Roger Deakins favourite films. The guy knows class when he sees it.
What a extraordinary movie to end this extraordinary challenge. Again a great movie by Melville with a perfect performance by Lino Ventura. How he plays Gerbier gave me goosebumps.
Week 33 of the Letterboxd Season Challenge 2015-16: Host Week. My list.
Melville's blues and greys are a thing to behold. Maybe my interpretation is a bit simplistic but I think the greys stand for despair and the blues for freedom. The characters here are what I would call 'heroes', but they're also human, fallible and scared. This movie is depressing exactly because we never know who is going to die and when, and we care for these people and their fights. Also this theme and the final scene in which it plays over made me cry an unhealthy amount of bitter tears. The definition of a masterpiece.
Brilliantly dry take on the French resistance in WWII, focused more on the cold procedure of how they went about their secret livelihood, with all the ugly matter-of-fact tasks they have to perform on the way (despite there being little bloodshed, some of the deaths carried out in this film really hurt to watch at times). Melville finds a very precise balance of his trademark style to influence the visual landscape of the film while not overdoing it, resulting in a treasure trove of inspired setups and edits that stick with you long past the movie is over, and slides up very comfortably alongside the grim irony that film ends with and on.
Unhappy memories! Yet I welcome you...you are my long lost youth...
As with most films that strike a certain (too) personal chord with me I will not be able to write more than a paragraph about Army of Shadows. Honor and reflexivity, those are the words of palate in Army of Shadows, those are the words of great meaning to myself. Jean-Pierre Melville is quickly becoming a director of great endearment to me, as if he wrote and directed these films for me. Each frame could be of intense subliminal significance to anyone, but especially so on my own personal level each image, directorial choice, and score note draws up buckets of emotion that make me feel as if Melville 'understood' me. Army of Shadows isn't a film you simply watch, you live with it for days and you have probably lived with it your whole life.
Unhappy memories! Yet I welcome you...you are my long lost youth...
Jean-Pierre Melville really delivers when it comes to the atmosphere of the place, he is an absolute master when it comes to showing how a character feels without using dialogue.
Army of Shadows is a strong film that more than showing the horrors of the war, takes us into the hard world of the resistance, where the mix of constant threat, paranoia and hard choices (especially present here) make the lives of those who choose to fight really difficult.
The movie is directed masterfully by Melville, I really like the cinematography (the colour palette is beautiful) and really well acted, the problem is that is a bit slow at times.
I give it 4.5 stars
Every Melville film I watch makes me more and more a fan of his work. Army of Shadows is probably my favorite so far.
There are plenty of films out there on the horrors of war, but I can't think of another that's covered this aspect - the effect resistance has on those who resist. The closest analogue I can think of are the occupation episodes of Battlestar Galactica, though even those fall well short of Melville's accomplishments.
Melville presents a world where anything less than complete emotional suppression is a fatal mistake, and then proceeds to show us how much that mentality goes against human nature. Watching the film, I found myself getting sucked into the emotionless outlook the…
Movies that are slightly off.