April 28, 2020  (Web Review)

Army of Shadows

Criterion, 145 min., in French w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: 2 discs, $39.95; Blu-ray: $39.95, Apr. 7

Reviewer rating: 4.0/4

Writing in VL Online-7/07, reviewer Donald Liebenson said: “The opening shot of Jean-Pierre Melville’s devastating 1969 film casts a haunting shadow: framed by the Arc de Triomphe, German soldiers march down an eerily deserted Champs-Elysees in a nightmarish image from Frances darkest hour during the German occupation. Army of Shadows was not released in the United States until 2006, when it was rapturously received by critics. Dismissed in its day by French critics (as was Melville), it now ranks as a masterpiece and is considered to be the director’s most personal film. Melville was himself a member of the Resistance, and it would take him more than two decades to realize his dream of bringing the autobiographical novel by Resistance fighter Joseph Kessel (who also wrote Belle de Jour) to the screen. Army of Shadows revolves around a series of incidents and episodes involving a small cell of Resistance fighters, portrayed by an incomparable ensemble, including Lino Ventura, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and the magnificent Simone Signoret. From a daring escape and the murder by strangulation of a traitor, to an ill-fated rescue attempt from a Nazi prison and the climactic execution of a compromised member, Army of Shadows offers up dramatic tableaux both unsparing and unflinching (while not a thriller in the conventional sense, the film is by turns harrowing, intense, and tragic). Making its second appearance on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion with a new transfer, extras are identical to the previous release, including a 2006 audio commentary by film historian Ginette Vincendeau, the 1944 propaganda doc “Le journal de la Resistance,” segments from the French TV show L’Invité du dimanche, a 2005 documentary on the film, excerpts from an episode of the French television show Ouvrez les Guillemets, 2007 interviews with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme and editor Francoise Bonnot, archival interviews (with Signoret, resistance fighter Lucie Aubrac, and Melville), and a booklet featuring essays by critic Amy Taubin and historian Robert O. Paxton, as well as excerpts from Rui Nogueira’s Melville on Melville. Highly recommended. Editor’s Choice. (R. Pitman)