From its first shot — a haunting procession of Nazi soldiers marching in front of the Arc de Triomphe on an overcast morning — Army of Shadows establishes an elegiac tone from which it rarely strays. But Jean-Pierre Melville's immersive 1969 account of a Resistance cell never feels one-note. This is among the more bracing, unsentimental portrayals of workaday bravery captured on celluloid; so persuasive is the director's ability to maintain tension that, despite knowing full well how the war ends, we've rarely much hope that this particular group will come out unscathed. That has to do with their own expectations, as the freedom fighters are realistic (if not outright pessimistic) about their chances from the very first.
Melville puts us in the room as they discuss the last-resort option of cyanide tablets should they be captured, united (at least in theory) in their belief that the movement's survival supersedes that of any individual member. Even as hope fades, a spark remains — in the vibrant filmmaking if not in their decreasing ranks. Poorly received upon its initial French release, Army of Shadows wasn't brought stateside until 2006 (when the New York Film Critics Circle gave it the foreign-language film award) and has now been digitally restored nearly a decade later. Being on the right side of cinematic history may not be as important as choosing the right side in a war, but that's no excuse not to see this classic in a theater.
Jean-Pierre MelvilleLino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret, Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet, Christian Barbier, Serge Reggiani, André Dewavrin, Alain DekokJoseph Kessel, Jean-Pierre MelvilleJacques DorfmannRialto Pictures LLC.