Army of Shadows (2007 DVD)
(L'Armée des ombres)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
France and Italy, 1969
In French with English subtitles
soyez pourtant les bienvenus...
vous êtes ma jeunesse lointaine..."
Third knockout in a row I've seen from the famous cowboy hat-wearing iconoclast Melville. While sandwiched in time in between two of his excellent gangster films, Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1970), the recently-restored L'Armée actually has to do with an altogether different type of shadow world: the French Resistance in the German-occupied France of 1942-43. Based on Joseph Kessel's autobiographical novel of the same name, this movie works as well as a thriller as it does as a morally-complex remembrance of troubled times. From its powerful opening scene (a shot of goose-stepping Nazis slowly turning in front of the Arc de Triomphe before heading down the Champs Élysées for their daily parade, seemingly hell-bent on a collison course with the camera and--by extension--the spectator) to its equally devastating final frame (an outcome I won't reveal here), the film immerses you in a grim, paranoiac world where the lines between heroism, savagery, and even justice aren't always totally clear (since both "patriots" and "traitors" suffer at the hands of their captors during the course of the film, the DVD cover's image of a man slumped over in a chair with his hands tied behind his back is a lot more ambiguous than it might seem at first glance). An exceptional film, aided and abetted by an outstanding cast and with a haunting score by Eric Demarsan. (http://www.criterion.com/)
1969 L'Armée des ombres trailer for the original French release (above);
2006 Army of Shadows trailer for the US theatrical debut (below).