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Army of Shadows - Criterion Collection (1969)

Art House & International and Classics movie

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Nerves of Steel

  • May 16, 2007
Rating:
+5
Director Jean-Pierre Melville drew from his own experiences of The French Resistance during World War II to make the same-titled novel into an inspired movie. Capturing the gamut of participants and demonstrating that not all of the French were on board, 'Army of Shadows' zeroes in on some of the more effective players who must operate with nerves of steel to sneak around, outfox, and escape from their German occupiers and undermine their influence.

Protagonist Phillippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a civil engineer, is the focal point. At the beginning he is sent to a prison the French originally meant for the Germans. After a skillful escape, he must continue the mission and dote over any fellow member who may be subsequently captured and tortured, so that the operation won't be revealed to the Nazis. One focal point of tension is when fellow member Felix (Paul Crauchet) is captured, and Phillipe laments he has no cyanide capsules to take his own life if the pressure is too much for him. Having connections for communication and arms from London and a spy network that matters make their operation essential are amongst many of the tactics in their arsenal. (Some of the London scenes are quite interesting. Phillipe's British laison doesn't trust the bumbling French and is stingy with arms. Visiting a jazz discoteque in London, the dancers don't even flinch at the sounds and shaking of bombs.) Resourceful in their repertoire is shop owner Matilde (Simone Signoret) whose own family doesn't even suspect her involvement. Her clever insights make her a key player in their operation.

'Army of Shadows' is methodical, sometimes requiring the patience requisite of the resistance. The timing merely gives the audience an unnerving sense of the imminent dangers lurking amongst them. Resourceful and keenly observant, the movie transports us into the vigilant world of their underground. The performances demonstrate steely coolness that is never overdone. Neither the dialogue nor the action is ever wasted. I was truly fascinated about a matter I'd always wondered about: Whatever happened in France during the German occupation? Now I feel like I know through a perceptive and honest cinematic account.

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More Army of Shadows - Criterion Co... reviews
review by . April 15, 2011
A grim, austere masterpiece of the French resistance, by Jean-Pierre Melville
"...but I'm going to die and I'm not afraid. It's impossible not to be afraid of dying. But I'm too stubborn, too much of 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 Philippe Gerbier speaking. The time is between October, 1942 and February, 1943. He's the leader of a resistance cell in German-occupied France. He was an engineer. Now he is a hard man of …
review by . October 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Army of Shadows (released in 1969, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville) is, off the top of my current head, unique. The film’s engine is a plot that relies on the audience knowing a good amount of history but the fuel that keeps it going are the performances. The actors are stone-faced throughout; they do a good job of expressing anxiety and fear through body language, but their faces almost never show what is really happening. The Army of Shadows is the best film I have seen in months and …
About the reviewer
John L. Peterson ()
Ranked #100
I am a substitute teacher who enjoysonline reviewing. Skiing is my favorite pastime; weight training and health are my obsessions;and music and movies feed my psyche. Books are a treasure and a pleasure … more
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Wiki

Who would've guessed that the best film of 2006 would be a 37-year-old thriller about the French Resistance during World War II? Hailed as a masterpiece by an overwhelming majority of reputable critics, Jean-Pierre Melville'sArmy of Shadowswasn't officially released in America until 2006 (hence its appearance on many of that year's top-ten lists), but its reputation as a French classic was already well-established throughout Europe. Fully restored in 2004 and released in the U.S. by Rialto Pictures, it represents the gold standard of films about the French Resistance, based upon Joseph Kessel's 1943 novel and imbued with personal touches by Melville, an Alsatian Jew whose own involvement in the Resistance qualifiesArmy of Shadowsas a semi-autobiographical exercise in somber nostalgia, as indicated by an opening quote echoing Melville's ironic belief that memories of Nazi occupation needn't always be traumatic.

Having lived through this history, Melville doesn't treat it lightly; in Army of Shadows, the threat of death hangs over every scene like a shroud. Unfolding with flawless precision, the plot begins in 1942 and focuses on a small, secretive band of Resistance fighters led by Gerbier (Lino Ventura), whose intuitive sense of danger lends additional suspense to the film's dark, atmospheric study of grace under pressure. While working in the classical tradition of the Hollywood films he admired, Melville breaks from convention with ...

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Details

Genre: Foreign
DVD Release Date: May 15, 2007
Runtime: 145 minutes
Studio: Criterion Collection
First to Review

"Nerves of Steel"
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