3 April 2008 | evanston_dad
Could Have Been Called "Army of the Dead"
Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" is a sombre film about the French Resistance during WWII. It's yet one more movie that makes me feel like I have a terrible grasp of history, as I knew virtually nothing about the movement before seeing this. Melville himself was a member of the Resistance, so I can only assume that his film is fairly accurate. It's powerful, but not obviously so. It doesn't inspire tremendous reactions or emotions while viewing it, but it gets in your head and stays there.
The film is lacking any of that championing of the underdog spirit that infuses so many other stories about scrappy groups resisting the tyranny of the powerful. The members of the French Resistance in this film live like unearthly beings, skittering from one shadowy doorway to another, trying to erase any sign of themselves. The movie suggests that this need for non-existence bleeds into their psychology as well -- the film's main character becomes nearly inhuman in his devotion to the cause and his ability to ruthlessly do away with colleagues when there's a chance that one of them might jeopardize the others. He's not inhuman, but he must do inhuman things, because the desperation of his and his comrades' situations calls for it.
The Criterion Collection's print of the film looks terrific, or at least as terrific as the film's dreary pallet of grey and brown will allow. Melville gives the film an authentic look -- only some scenes set in the London blitz and on an aircraft carrier have a studio set look to them.
A shot of the Arc di Triomphe both opens and closes the film: a symbol of the France that would eventually emerge from the dark days of WWII, or an ironic jab at a country that can't take much credit for fighting off the tyranny of fascism?