Tuesday, January 5, 2010

L'armée des ombres (Army of Shadows)

Many might find L'armée des ombres extremely boring. In fact, for a film about the French resistance against Nazi occupation during WWII (1939-1945), the film pratically doesn't have any action scenes. However, if you're patient enough, you'll appreciate L'armée des ombres (which is adapted from a novel of Joseph Kessel) that explores the bottom of the leading protagonists' heart.

Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), an engineer and a suspected resistant, is put behind bars by the French police. Afterwards, he's handed to the Gestapo's headquarters in Paris because he knows a lot of things. Philippe manages to escape and flee to Marseille in order to meet with fellow resistants. Moreover, he'll eliminate the traitor who caused his imprisonment. However, the Gestapo will try to not only arrest Philippe, but also his companions.

Let's be honest: the pace of Jean-Pierre Melville's film is really slow from the beginning to the end. Besides, looking like a day-to-day observation of what some French resistants did could've killed the film. However, if you're armed with patience you'll find this film to your liking. Although L'armée des ombres is not about acts of sabotage or killings, Melville's approach surprises us for it doesn't judge French collaborators nor glorify resistants. Indeed, when asked why he ratted Philippe, the traitor remained silent before he got strangled to death. After all, no matter what the character would've said, treason is unspeakable.

Secondly, the film takes its distance with Hollywood, because Melville's film can be seen as a reflection on heroism. What we see are characters who, for security's sake, keep changing their name and their adress. Hence, the title of the film. Are these characters interested in getting future or posthumous glory? While this question is not philosophically brought up in dialogues, the film leaves this to our discernment. Besides, as the film suggests it through the cast's performance, the most beautiful thing about patriotism is to sacrifice ourself for a noble cause even if it means being in front of difficult choices.

Finally, this was my first experience with Jean-Pierre Melville. Although I found the dialogues are little bit dry, I got to admit that they give to the characters a depth greater than we think.

Rating: 5/5

Origin:France/Italy (1969)
Length:144 minutes
Genre:Historical drama
Screenplay:Jean-Pierre Melville
Director:Jean-Pierre Melville
Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret, Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet and Christian Barbier

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