Thursday, December 15, 2011

Army of Shadows

Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969, France (9.0*)
Based on truth, as both novelist Joseph Kessel and director Jean-Pierre Melville were both in this army themselves. An excellent (and low-key) war film without the histrionics of most, Army in the Shadows takes the French men and women of the Resistance as its theme, at a point near the end of the war when the Resistance movement and Nazi intelligence about its work and staff are both firmly established.

This film will likely give most of the modern filmgoers a history lesson into the daily movements of the Resistance. Here we are shown the more mundane aspects of fighting a war from within, such as the ladies who operated safe houses for members on the run, as the Gestapo can torture enough members to gain intelligence on others. We also see aristocrats whose estates played host to small aircraft used to smuggle collaborators in and out of France. Unfortunately, we also witness the fate of those who crack under pressure or torture.

This a fascinating expose of the gruesome realities of heroism and the struggle against occupying armies, which of course also included moments of hopelessness and failure of nerve, as even the stout feel hidden eyes on every movement. Events test this hidden army, eventually each one finds themselves up against his or her personal limit of bravery and endurance as this struggle continued for years with no end in sight, at least during the time setting of this film.

Led by Simone Signoret in perhaps her best performance, and also starring Paul Meurisse and Jean-Pierre Cassel, this is one of the finest French films for craftmanship of acting and directing, and is Melville’s masterpiece. His crime films are excellent but none pack the emotional or historical weight of this story. You won’t find a better film about the Resistance in all of cinema.

The newly restored version on dvd was released in 2006 and won three new awards. The film has a rating of 8.2 at IMDB, which would place it in the top 250, but it doesn’t have enough ratings yet, with under 8,000 – so it’s rank in our compendium of polls would be much higher than the current 277, it would certainly be in the top 200. At Metacritics, it has a rating of 99, which would place it in the top 10 there, just after the 5-6 perfect 10’s, which include Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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