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 Shadows
wasn'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 Shadows
as 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 ...