L’armée des ombres / Army of Shadows

In Army of Shadows (1969), Jean-Pierre Melville, master of the French noir, takes the atmospheric style and cool efficiency of his gangster classics Le Doulos and Le Samouraï and applies them to the French Resistance, following Resistance leader Philippe Gerbier (in a powerfully understated performance by the legendary Lino Ventura) as he escapes from the Gestapo and sets about rebuilding his network. As ever, the director excels at generating tension by quietly drawing out scenes, dwelling on the grim expectation in his characters’ faces rather than their actions and focusing on the moral impact of violence rather than its execution. The film’s distinctive blue-hued photography matches its sorrowful mood: it is as much a film about solitude, silence, and secrecy as about heroism, loyalty, and daring escapes. Here, the knowledge that the characters are loosely based on real Resistance figures makes for a unique blend of horror and excitement. But perhaps the greatest achievement of Army of Shadows is that it transcends its historical setting to provide a definitive portrait of twentieth-century man staring into the metaphysical abyss, only ever one step away from absurdity. As such, it is one of the most striking cinematic illustrations of the French Resistance as Existentialism’s moral litmus test.

Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville

Lino Ventura
Simone Signoret
Paul Meurisse
Jean-Pierre Cassel

145 min.
France, 1969
Blu-ray, DCP, DVD

Rialto Pictures

$350 Blu-ray and DVD
$450 DCP