Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Army of Shadows
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.