Every film from Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" essays.
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.
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…
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…
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.
I've never found war films to be my favourite genre. The action scenes in every film begin to blur together over time and the screaming violence and death get somewhat tiresome with each new depiction. While I never dislike any of them, it's just something I've never related to and thus never sticks with me. Regardless of how much love this films gets, and even after I commented I'd see it, it still took months for me to sit myself down to watch. Well, thankfully, Army of Shadows is an atypical war film in the best possible way and one I can't wait to watch again.
Rather than focusing on bombs going off, widespread mayhem, and a pause in-between to…
There's something great about the understated masculinity of a Melville classic like this one. The composition, the timing, and the sense of tension are never imperfect at any given moment in this film. Army of Shadows threads the needle between James Bondian romp and John Le Carre bleakness in a way that few films manage. It's at once somber and exciting, tense and contemplative, political and gut-wrenching. Army of Shadows shows that the ultimate tyranny of Nazism in Europe was what it turned everyone into, even those who resisted.
Director Jean-Pierre Melville is best-known for his U.S.-style gangster flix like LE CERCLE ROUGE & LE SAMOURAÏ: movies so brittle and icy they shatter if you breathe on them. This one, abt the French Resistance, actually has—*gasp*—a heart! Thanks largely to the acting of Lino Ventura & Simone Signoret. Wonderful Hitch-like camera moves & cutting throughout. Relentlessly dour but never boring. 8/10
Here is an example of the Frenchman's mastery of technical cinema. The cinematography is incredibly fresh - it both saddens and delights me that Jean-Pierre Melville set an incredibly high standard for cinematographical accomplishment. Few films since Army of Shadows have truly paralleled its adventurous technical achievements.
Though my admiration for Melville's style is limitless, I must say Army of Shadows is a markedly weaker film, structurally, energetically and emotionally than Le Samourai. Perhaps the themes presented here were intense for those living in the post-war hegemonic era, but clearly either I have missed something essential (which is likely) or Army of Shadows isn't a timeless piece after all.
I will attempt a second, more engaged viewing but the first attempt was a disappointment.
Releasing Le Samuraï, Le Cercle Rouge and Army of Shadows - all films that scream classic - in the span of four years is just unbelievable. Meville's direction in this one is perfection, I've honestly never seen anything quite like it.
A taut and relentless thriller. They don't make 'em like they used to!
Nem todos os filmes relacionados com guerra necessitam de explosões e afins para ser um filme de excelência no género e este é um dos casos...
Melville applies his typically cool and elegant style to a story with real heft and moral seriousness, and the results are pretty exhilarating. Some of the suspense sequences are brilliant, but the real strength of the film lies in its depictions of the small matters of life during wartime, from the nervousness of hearing bombs drop overhead to the annoying practicalities of killing someone quietly.
The sort of film that haunts your thoughts for days after viewing it. I've been thinking about how to write about ARMY OF SHADOWS since I saw it four days earlier, and each time I'm reminded of how astonishing it is. Melville's work on the French Resistance Movement is subtle, nuanced, nearly nihilistic, and surprisingly abstract. It finds great tension in the tedious minutiae of spy affairs, prolonging scenes to unusual lengths only to end in anticlimax. Similarly, it understands how much of the job is excruciating waiting, pacing around rooms, or struggling to formulate plans while allies suffer through torture. ARMY OF SHADOWS is remarkably imbued with a sort of 'quiet heroism' in which the covert tactics, humanistic morals,…
It's a tense and lofty duty to direct a film so dispassionately honest about rebellion movements, especially in the middle of a rather serious one in France, the country of origin for this dark and gloomy film. Leave it to the French to make a film about a resistance movement, where the means and actions of the movement are kept on the back burner. It works, and Army of Shadows becomes a darkly beautiful look at the conflicted morals and damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't nature of France during World War 2.
For five years, film critic Scott Tobias compiled "The New Cult Canon" in a regular column for The A.V. Club…