Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Army of Shadows

Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969, 145m, French

If you are watching this movie on a small screen, make sure the room is darkened. Although it is in color the palette is almost completely dark most of the time. So the title is all the more apt, since the characters, members of the French resistance during World War 2, are very much like shadows who move around stealthily, talking in muffled tones.

France was occupied by the Nazi's from 1942-44, and a puppet government was set up under Marshal Petain at the town of Vichy. The Gestapo maintained a tight leash of surveillance on the citizens. The Resistance seems to have been a low key affair both in terms of men and armaments though it grew in strength as the war progressed. It consisted of a limited band of committed individuals, who dared to take up oars against an overwhelmingly hopeless tide. Their activities were mainly confined to supplying information to the British allies in anticipation of the Allied entry into European terrain.

This feeling of being defeated from the start, with no flicker of hope except perhaps to salvage one's own honor and humanity pervades this dark film.

What makes th film all the more significant is that Melville was an eyewitness to the humiliation of occupation and active in the Resistance. The occupation produced a breed of philosophers, Sartre being the most famous. The Resistance was in fact led by the philosopher Jean Cavaillais, who is transformed into the Luc Jardie character in the film. For these are distinguished men who have chosen a path in which death, imprisonment and torture dangle constantly as a possibility and thus have everything to be philosophic about.

Not an easy movie to watch, very different from the director's Le Samourai. Stylistically, it made me think of the Grey Zone.

Roger Ebert
Manohla Dargis


Anonymous said...

Another great movie from Melville. Melville actually participated in The Resistance, and he does not glamorize about it. With gripping cool professionalism, the movie ultimately tells us how futile and desperate they were at that time. As a matter of fact, they did not contribute much until the war is almost over, and, at that time, as the epilogue says, nearly all of characters in the movie were dead already.

I like your comparison with "The Grey Zone", by the way. Both are unforgettably pessimistic movies.

S M Rana said...

I'm finding the WW2 German Occupation of France to be interesting theme in cinema. It virtually seems a sub-genre.

Melville's The Silence of the Sea views the same experience from the viewpoint of the general French population, those not actively involved in the resistance.

Louis Malle has made an unforgettably beautiful film, which I strongly recommend, about the Occupation in Au Revoir, les Enfants.

litdreamer said...

Yes, Au Revoir, Les Enfants is a wonderful film, and also benefits from the director having lived through the times he depicts on the screen.

S. M. Rana said...

@LD: I fully agree.