Jump to content

Army of Shadows


Overstreet
 Share

Recommended Posts

Try to imagine what it would have been like if Robert Bresson had directed Munich.

If you can manage that, you'll have a pretty good grasp of what Army of Shadows is like. It's an nail-bitingly intense (I can testify from experience--a couple of ragged nails here) spy thriller about the French resistance to the Nazis in 1942 and 1943. And boy is it bleak. In fact, by the end of the film I was wondering if these freedom fighters had done more damage to each other than they had to the Nazis, and yet you can't help but stand in awe of their dedication, courage, and sacrifice.

And it has the ring of truth. Jean-Pierre Melville, the director, had some experience with the resistance, and there is an exciting realism to the tension, the danger, and the miserable places where the agents in this network must meet and hide.

I would be very surprised to learn that Spielberg had not seen this before making Munich. There are scenes, and even characters, that bear strong resemblances to scenes and characters in this film.

I almost wrote that Army of Shadows is filmed in black-and-white, but then I began to remember traces of color. Suffice it to say that, from its opening frames, the use of color and shadow in the film amplifies the bleakness, the sense of doom that engulfs the bold endeavors of these agents. (It didn't help matters that I saw it in a dusty old arthouse theater today that was full of big ugly moths, and the bugs kept flying in front of the projector, giving the impression of a horror movie as the characters were frequently buffeted by massive fluttering phantoms.)

And the lead actor, Lino Ventura, is extraordinary. He looks like Peter Sellers, with a hint of Elvis Costello, and the slow-burn intensity of Robert DeNiro in Ronin. He's not a macho hero... in fact, the Sellers resemblance really became strong whenever he was challenged to do something bold or violent. In spite of the grim circumstances, his first parachute jump--a solo jump from a military plane at night--is quite comical.

Having only read the local film summary, I know next to nothing about Melville, and I'm anxious to learn more and see more. Just as I felt I'd stumbled onto a secret reservoir of ideas and inspiration for Spielberg and Lucas when I started watching early Miyazaki cartoons, I swear that Spielberg's a Melville fan... or at least a fan of this film. But watch out... Munich is postively cheery compared to Army of Shadows.

Note to self: Look up Jean-Pierre Cassel. Is he Vincent Cassel's father? He sure looks like him...

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is this the film?

According to IMDb, he is Cassel's father.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

Twitter.
Letterboxd.

Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll definitely check it out, it looks like just the kind of film I'd enjoy.

I rewatched Munich last night with two friends who hadn't seen it and dislike Spielbergian sentimentality and they greatly enjoyed it and found it powerful, so it just confirms my own admiration for the film.

I'll see if I can find the film on zip.ca (Canadian Netflix).

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

Twitter.
Letterboxd.

Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I saw it and was very impressed with how methodical it was, how it takes its time to develop its characters and let the scenes unfold. It looked very realistic, giving one a sense how it really was for these freedom fighters. I agree that is very bleak, in that you don't see the kinds of payoffs you get in a typical war film. The Bresson comparison is right-on. This film plays its cards very close to the vest. And Lino Ventura is excellent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Am I the only Melville fan here? I have yet to see Shadows (it's playing no where near me until next month), but I own Le Cercle Rouge, Le Samouri and Bob le Flambeur. All are grade A movies (though Le Cercle Rouge drags on a TINY bit).

No, you're not, though I feel I've seen too little to really qualify as a fan.

I initially became intrigued about Melville because John Woo claimed him as a major influence (this was back when I was all about The Killer and Hard Boiled). I've only seen Le Samourai (via a really bad copy) and Le Cercle Rouge (which I liked quite a bit in places - that silent robbery was fantastic), but I want to see more. I've heard a lot about Army Of Shadows, but I doubt it'll come anywhere near Lincoln.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
Opus, Twitter, Facebook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Melville indeed had a gift, and you can most assuredly sense the Bressonian thing at work, though, IMO, Melville can't touch Bresson. An interesting thing of note, at least to me, is how crazy people get over P.T. Anderson. Mind you, I am an avid Anderson fan. However, watch "Bob Le Flambeur" and tell me you look at "Hard Eight" in the same way. I mean, I love "Hard Eight", it just puts a different taste in my mouth after seeing "Bob..." I'm not big on the borderline complete impersonation thing. Same thing with "Munich". I would 99 % bet that Spielberg intently viewed "Army of Shadows". Lot of folks out there ripping off Melville, IMO.

"Master precision. Be a precision instrument myself." - Robert Bresson

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Bresson comparison and theme of Resistance is especially applicable in his first independently realized film, The Silence of the Sea I highly recommend it to anyone who is only familiar with Melville's work as a noir/underworld-themed filmmaker. I think it really reveals his influence on Bresson's aesthetic (and not just Pickpocket)

I heartily second Acquarello's recommendation of this seminal, oddly overlooked film. Melville, in a characteristically self-dramatizing act, only got the rights to film the novel by offering to burn the negative if the film didn't meet Vercors' (the author) standards. In any case, it is a haunting, beautiful film -- unfortunately only available on VHS right now.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

buffalo wrote:

: Same thing with "Munich". I would 99 % bet that Spielberg intently viewed "Army of Shadows".

Hmmm. Spielberg's film was based on a book (which I have read) that had already been filmed in the 1980s as a TV-movie (which I have not seen). I can point to places where Spielberg's film followed the book, and I can point to places where he didn't, but it would be interesting to see if there were places where he was following other films, as well -- including the 1980s TV-movie and, of course, Army of Shadows.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 years later...

This was my first Melville film, and after hearing John Woo go on and on about the guy, I guess I was expecting something with more stylistic flourishes. The film is very well made, but it's from decades ago and feels very much like a film from an earlier era. I don't know why I should've expected anything else, but that's what happens when you spend years reading about a filmmaker (not in depth, but in passing -- otherwise I wouldn't have been surprised) and not watching his films.

I'm not sure where to go from here with Melville. Should I watch the gangster films from this same, later period for the filmmaker? Something earlier?

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...