Saturday, April 23, 2022

2022 Blind Spot Series: Army of Shadows


Based on the novel by Joseph Kessel, L’Armee des ombres (Army of Shadows) is the story of various individuals in the French Resistance during World War II as they deal with the sacrifices and struggles during the war against Nazi Germany. Written for the screen and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, the film is a study of the live in the Resistance as well as what people had to do to fight against Nazi Germany as well as making uneasy decisions in the war. Starring Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and Simone Signoret. L’Armee des ombres is a rapturous and chilling film from Jean-Pierre Melville.

Told in the span of a year from 1942 to 1943 in Vichy France during World War II, the film follows the lives of a few individuals who are involved in the French Resistance as they deal with fighting and scheming against Nazi Germany while also making uneasy decisions. It is a film that explore a few key individuals who are part of this resistance against the Nazis as they all have to make uneasy decisions as it would involving having to kill those who become a liability in exposing the Resistance. Jean-Pierre Melville’s screenplay is straightforward in its narrative yet it has strands of characters it follow with a Resistance leader in Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) who is first seen arriving at a prison camp where he is later transferred to the Gestapo only to escape as he runs a network with longtime friend Felix Lepercq (Paul Crauchet), a burly veteran in Guillaume Vermesch aka Le Bison (Christian Barbier), and a young recruit in Claude Ullmann aka the Mask (Claude Mann). The first act is about Gerbier’s brief time in prison, his escape, and also uncovering a traitor prompting him to take action.

The second act is about an unexpected meeting between Lepercq and a former pilot in Jean-Francois Jardie (Jean-Pierre Cassel) whose older brother is the philosopher Luc Jardie (Paul Meurisse) whom Gerbier admires. Jean-Francois would also gain the support of a woman in Mathilde (Simone Signoret) who would become part of Gerbier’s network and later run things during the third act when Gerbier is captured. Still, there are a lot of complexities in the film’s second half about the demands of being in the Resistance but also the fact that someone can’t carry any sentimental value as it would have them link to family who might know something or be used as blackmail. Even as a few would be captured and endure brutal torment by the Nazis as it play into how dangerous things were during Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.

Melville’s direction is entrancing in its presentation as it is shot on various locations in France including parts of Paris including a shot of the Arc de Triomphe where Nazi soldiers are marching in the foreground with the Arc in the background. Melville’s direction definitely emphasizes less on many of Paris’ familiar sites in order to create an atmosphere of a world that is bleak and intense. Melville’s usage of the wide and medium shots do play into the world that is Vichy France where there is a lot of attention to detail in the prison camps, the prison cells, and other places as location is key to the film. Notably in the scene where Gerbier first escapes and then hides at a barbershop where a barber (Serge Reggiani) would help him as it helps set a tone for some of the moments of suspense. One of which include Gerbier trying to get aboard a British submarine to meet with British officials in aiding the Resistance as well as the return back on plane where they had to endure anti-aircraft attacks. There are also these elements in the direction such as a scene where Jean-Francois is stepping out on a train as he is carrying something important to the Resistance as he has to find a way to pass the Nazi guards.

Melville also maintains some offbeat elements such as Gerbier in London where he finds himself in a dancehall where British military personnel are dancing while bombs are falling around them as well as a scene in a prison where the Nazis give the prisoners a chance to survive. There are also these intense moments where Melville would use close-ups as things do intensify in the third act as it relates to not just setbacks and uneasy decisions but also what is at stake for the Resistance. Even as things get personal and an air of uncertainty emerges into who to trust and how the Resistance can move forward. Notably as the climax and its aftermath is about all of the uneasy decisions one have to make during war and the sacrifices they are forced to make to free their own country from the hands of another. Overall, Melville crafts a gripping and intoxicating film about the life of a few individuals working for the French Resistance.

Cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, with additional work from Walter Wottitz, does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting along with soft light for some scenes including its emphasis on grey and blue colors to help set a visual tone for the film. Editor Francoise Bonnot does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish usage of transition wipes, jump-cuts, and other stylish cuts to help play into the suspense and drama. Art director Theobald Meurisse and set decorator Roger Volper do excellent work with the look of the prison cells, the houses the characters hide out at, and some of the places they go to. Costume designer Madame Colette Baudot does fantastic work with the costume as it does bear some style with the men wearing suits as well as the uniforms the French police and the Nazis wear with Mathilde wearing all sorts of clothes including a nurse’s uniform during an attempted prison break.

The makeup work of Maud Begon is terrific for the way two major characters look following their interrogations with the Nazis in how badly they were beaten by them. Sound designers Jacques Carrere, Alex Pront, and Jean Neni, with sound editing by Robert Pouret, do superb work with the sound in the way gunfire sounds as well as these scenes where it revolves around the location to play into the suspense. The film’s music by Eric Demarsan is incredible for its eerie music score with brooding string arrangements as well as its usage of an organ to help maintain a suspenseful mood as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Adrien Cayla-Legrand as Charles de Gaulle, Nathalie Delon in an un-credited appearance as Jean-Francois’ date at a bar, Anthony Stuart as a Royal Air Force major, Colin Mann as a British pilot who gives Gerbier instructions on his return to France via parachute, Albert Michel as a policeman at a train station, Alain Mottet as a commander at a prison camp, Serge Reggianni as a barber who helps hide Gerbier following his prison escape, Alain Libolt as a young man who is revealed to be a traitor to the Resistance, Jean-Marie Robain as a baron who aids the Resistance in giving them a temporary home base and such, Denis Sadler as a Gestapo doctor, and Andre Dewavrin in a brief appearance as himself in the role of a Resistance colonel. Christian Barbier and Claude Mann are superb in their respective roles as the Bison and the Mask as two members of the Resistance who take part in some of the killings and such with the former being the most loyal including towards Mathilde while the latter is a newer recruit who proves to be resourceful.

Paul Crauchet is fantastic as Felix Lepercq as an older member of the Resistance who is close with Gerbier as he would later be captured by the Nazis and endure some of the most physical brutality in their interrogation methods. Simone Signoret is amazing as Mathilde as a member of the Resistance who helps in organizing things including an attempted prison break for Lepercq as well as other things as she proves to be loyal despite her own faults as it relates to her life at home. Jean-Pierre Cassel is excellent as Jean-Francois Jardie as a former pilot who joins the Resistance while giving Gerbier access to his older brother only to find himself at odds with some of the ideals of the Resistance. Paul Meurisse is brilliant as Luc Jardie as a philosopher who joins the Resistance as he is someone that Gerbier admires while also being someone who has ideas with the Resistance that would alienate some. Finally, there’s Lino Ventura in a phenomenal performance as Philippe Gerbier as a leader of the Resistance who gets captured while trying to maintain his rule as well as keeping the Resistance a secret from the Nazis as well as having to make uneasy decisions knowing what is at stake as it is a restrained yet unsettling performance from Gerbier.

L’Armee des ombres is a magnificent film from Jean-Pierre Melville. Featuring a great ensemble cast, mesmerizing visuals, an eerie music soundtrack, and chilling suspense in its relation to life during World War II in German-occupied France. It is a film that definitely showcases a lot of the actions of the French Resistance as well as why they had to operate in the shadows as well as doing things that others might not want to do in war. In the end, L’Armee des ombres is an outstanding film from Jean-Pierre Melville.

Jean-Pierre Melville: 24 Hours in the Life of a ClownLe silence de la mer - Les enfants terribles - (Quand tu liras cette letter) - Bob le flambeur - (Two Men in Manhattan) – (Leon Morin, Priest) – (Le Doulos) – Magnet of Doom - Le deuxime souffle - Le Samourai - Le cercle rouge - (Un flic)

© thevoid99 2022


Brittani Burnham said...

Again you're getting me with Blind Spots I've never even heard of! This sounds interesting.

SJHoneywell said...

I've had this in my hand more than once to watch but have never pulled the trigger. Looks like I should.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-This was a film that not many Americans knew about as it was released in France in 1969 to a negative reception due to the praise of Charles de Gaulle who wasn't liked by the country following the events of May '68. It just came and went as it nearly destroyed Melville's career. It would be a restoration/reissue in 2006 where American audiences saw the film and it is widely considered his best film and I agree. I saw it on MUBI and it should be see as it is not an easy film to watch but rewarding.

@SJHoneywell-WATCH IT NOW!!!!!