Army of Shadows

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					“Army of Shadows,” (“L’Armee des Ombres”) (1969), clocks in at 145
minutes of classic French cinema, in color this time. It tells a dark, gritty
dramatic wartime story of the French underground resistance that sprang
up during the World War II German occupation of this Gallic country. The
film was set in 1942. It was based upon a novel written by much-honored
writer Joseph Kessel, ( BELLE DE JOUR, novel and film), co-written as a
screen play and directed by cult favorite Jean-Pierre Melville(), both of
whom had belonged to “le resistance” during the war years.

 Melville's experiences as a member of the Resistance help to inform this movie about a
respected civil engineer who becomes one of the chiefs of the underground movement.
Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura--) is intelligent, resourceful, and brave. Gerbier’s
network is urban-based, rather than rural, centered in Paris and Lyons. This small band
of partisans is in constant danger of arrest and torture by the Nazis. Principal players
include Paul Meurisse as Luc Jardie, top chief of the underground, and a much-honored
mathematical theorist; Jean-Pierre Cassel as his younger brother Jean Francois Jardie;
and Claude Mann as Claude Ullmann, called “Le Masque.” Simone Signoret dominates
the film, despite her fourth billing, turning in a monumental performance as Mathilde, a
woman who is as smart, brave, tough, and ingenious as any of the men – but makes one
fatal small mistake. Her old friend and costar in CASQUE D’OR, Serge Reggiani,
inhabits the barber, a bit part.

Things ultimately do not go well for this brave band of people: it is, realistically, unlikely
that they would, and Melville makes no compromises with reality. The movie is as
intelligent and understated as its characters. It has a documentary-like feel in its lack of
sugar-coating and does without a sound track for most of its running length. I doubt it
would work without the full-bodied performances of Ventura and Signoret, and doubt it
will ever achieve popularity: it was not even released in the United States until 2006. But
it’s a masterpiece: be in no doubt about that.

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