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A cold, austere look at the stealthy workings of the French Resistance. You might expect excitement and intrigue in a film about an underground movement. What 'Army of Shadows' instead captures is the bleakness and uncertainty that pervaded the lives of the Resistance members with the prospect of capture and death around every corner. Supposedly Roger Deakins' favourite film, and I can see why - the cinematography is worthy of the title.
This is not a film, this is a remorseless testimony. 'army of shadows' will mark you like (very) few films. Never did I see such a cold-blooded way to shoot a film, and never did I see such unbearable tension. No one but Kessel could have written it, and no one but Melville have directed it I guess.
Melville captured me with his long study of characters. These characters are freedom fighters in the resistance during WWII. The audience cannot help but be impressed by the conviction in these fighters. I want to see it again.
Underground resistance fighters in France do they're thing around the country, making life harder for the Nazis. They are on several missons, many of them include saving friends that are captured or are in trouble. They are smart, they plan things well and they are quite brutal, direct and cold when it comes to actions. The film has a great atmosphere. It's props and scenery is great and the photography is splendid.
Sadly it's a bit long, at times flat, but the story is very well presented anyhow. It get's better during it's playtime and has some very good stand-out scenes like the assasination of a traitor and the death penalty run. Another nice feature, maybe it's best one, is that things rearly goes supersmooth. There are no ego trips by huge heroes. There is fear everywhere, with "normal" people doing the best they can.
Very good performances doing interesting characters with soul and heart, pure resistance vibes. The superb soundtrack lifts this film, that feel real and never overdone. The lenght, that result in flatter parts is a minus for me, but I found this film interesting and exceptionally well crafted.
My first Melville-flick, known for a being a huge inspiration for many directors. I guess I see why, but I was never blown away, something I hoped for before I sat down, pressing play.
7.5 out of 10 cyanide capsules.
As of today, Army of Shadows is the greatest film I've ever seen. Never have I been as paralyzed as I was by a film's greatness. Genius flows in every frame.
This is a movie about the French underground during WWII No question about it, the movie does not glamorize life in the French underground. One really gets a feel for what it must of been like to be in the French underground during WWII. The fear and the difficulty they faced in their role fighting the Germans. I highly recommend this one.
Melville continues to impress me and I daresay this may be his best film. He brings together is visual mastery with a complex, twisty narrative and the result is a confident, gritty masterpiece. Like previous Melville features, it's quiet and unnervingly intense. The story is so bleak and dark I had to take two days to watch it, as the oppressive nature of this movie will certainly get to you. What's more, this movie wasn't widely released until 2006, making that 37 years before most people saw it.
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Yeah, in case you think that the French were just a bunch of cowards during World War II, well, watch as they get some hardcore work done... by hiding and waiting to sneak up for an attack. ...So, uh, yeah, anyways, they told me that this film was a dark comedy, but I wasn't expecting it to be this bleak, or to be twelve years older than any "Evil Dead" film. Well, I reckon if you don't want to sound like an idiot, don't get this film confused with "Army of Darkness", something that you might accidentally do, considering that this film isn't too much more historically accurate than "Army of Darkness". Both the author of the source material, Joseph Kessel, and the cat adapting it here, Jean-Pierre Melville, were in the French Resistance, and they're still taking their fair share of liberties, which isn't to say that don't still know how to get brutally honest. This film is indeed pretty bleak, or, in other words, slow and French, which is the formula needed to impress the pretentious Americans, while the French are looking at this film which is actually an important historical piece for them, and being all like, "Américains ignorants". Well, I think the French had kind of an excuse to be sour, because this film came out shortly after a period of civil unrest in French universities and factories in 1968, and made the Frenchies mad because, I don't know, it stood as a tribute to a French conflict that people actually remember. Well, whether it be because, as an ignorant American, I think that this film is sophisticated just because it's French, or whatever, I think we have a pretty good film here, or at least a refreshing one, and even then, that's up to a point.
The film has its conventional touches as a pseudo-noir Holocaust and special operations drama, and they're so light and so inconsequential that they really shouldn't be a big deal, but are notable for contradicting the genuine, unlikely originality that this film carries in so many ways, and for hitting some histrionic tropes. Just like the conventions, the melodramatics are hardly a big issue by their own right, but in the context of everything else, they're hard to deny, say, when they shake a sense of subtlety that often overcompensates through moderate, but sure ambiguities which convolute the level of depth to this drama. The film stands to be more fleshed out, at least enough for its focal shifts to feel more organic, as this film follows many chapters which it jars through as somewhat episodic, and keeps around longer than it perhaps ought to. It's hard to not appreciate a film which has the guts to take the long route to flesh dramatic value out, and sure enough, this film puts its two-and-a-half-hour runtime to good use on the whole, but like I said, not everything is as fleshed out as it probably should be, thus, the film's length is achieved partly through filler and meanderings, whose excessiveness is made all the more palpable by a subdued sense of directorial momentum. I cracked my joke about how bleak European drama surely means dryness, but, as sure as sunshine, this gritty flick prefers to go a slow-burn route which works more often than not, but only if there is consistent material to draw upon with the meditations, and even then, there's something very formal about the atmosphere of this thriller, to where resonance to the dramatics and tension go cold. The aesthetic integrity, intriguing subject matter and solid performances will surely endear between the highlights in dramatic bite which, make no mistake, burn pretty brightly, but momentum is questionable in this drama of a great potential which only makes the missteps, no matter how subtle, all the harder to ignore. Nevertheless, the film is a rewarding slow-burn dramatic thriller, although if nothing else holds your attention, it's the visual style of the film.
Adopting some noirish emphasis on subtle shadows and taking on a certain deep blue palette, Pierre Lhomme's and Walter Wottitz's cinematography is tremendously handsome and distinguished, not just in its complimenting a sense of bleakness to this gritty drama, but in its being unique, especially for the time, boasting a taste and definition that was ahead of the curve, not unlike certain other aspects of the film. Jean-Pierre Melville's script occasionally succumbs to conventions and melodramatics along its uneven and overlong course, and it's not as though it delivers on much sparkling dialogue or thoroughly rich characterization, but it makes its share of audacious moves which were ahead of the time and are still unpredictable, no matter how distinct the scripting's drawing of plot and characters are. Well, again, the characterization stands to be richer, thus, the depths of this at least thematically human thriller are truly drawn out by a cast of subtle, but effective performances which sort of carry the film, due to the intimacy of the storytelling. Now, when I say that storytelling is intimate, I do mean that it is overtly meditative, and where that could have dulled momentum to a crawl, intrigue is sustained by good looks, writing and acting, all behind a story concept which has plenty of intrigue to spare. A melodramatic and extensive portrait on the French Resistance's actions against the Nazis, this subject matter offers a lot of historical importance, as well as a lot of dramatic intrigue, so much so that it would be difficult to shave away all that much engagement value. That is by no means the intentions of Melville, even as a director who relies a lot of chilled atmospherics, as he carries a worthy ambition that pays off plenty once inspiration kicks in, to where what score work there is - courtesy of the gifted Éric Demarsan - goes utilized in a piercing manner which punctuates a consistent engagement value which is sustained through enough realization to the thoughtfulness to immerse and tense up, to one extent or another, through and through. The film does so much right, and although what few things it does wrong go a fair distance in holding back resonance, the final product is never less than compelling, and ultimately rewarding.
Once the shadows have cleared, occasions of convention and melodramatics betray uniqueness and subtlety, much of which is a little too subtle, to where things are not fleshed out enough to prevent jars in focal shifts which take their time showing up amidst dragging that is made all the more limp by more than a few atmospheric cold spells, and yet, through handsome cinematography which was about as ahead of its time as much of the writing, and through strong performances from a nuanced cast and direction by Jean-Pierre Melville, "Army of Shadows" stands as a reasonably engrossing and rewarding account of the heroic, yet bleak story behind the French Resistance.
3/5 - Good
A gritty wartime drama that isn't afraid to show the dark sides of good people.