Betrayed by an informant, Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) finds himself trapped in a torturous Nazi prison camp. Though Gerbier escapes to rejoin the Resistance in occupied Marseilles, France, and exacts his revenge on the informant, he must continue a quiet, seemingly endless battle against the Nazis in an atmosphere of tension, paranoia and distrust.
|Original Title||:||L'Armée des ombres|
|Release Date||:||September 11, 1969|
|Production Company||:||Fono Roma, Les Films Corona, The Criterion Collection|
|Production Countries||:||France, Italy|
|Writers||:||Joseph Kessel, Jean-Pierre Melville|
|Casts||:||Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret, Paul Crauchet, Christian Barbier, Claude Mann, Alain Libolt, Alain Mottet, Alain Decock, Serge Reggiani|
|Plot Keywords||:||paris, concentration camp, world war ii, german, czech, nazis, french resistance, german occupation|
Today, watching a film like Mr.and Mrs. North (2005) or one of the Bourne or Mission Impossibles or any of the current crop of 'action' films up to and including the latest Kung Fu spectacular with invulnerable flying fighting machines, seems to have rendered the genre into a profitable degeneracy rendering the depiction of actual human beings or their cinematic similitude obsolete as cave paintings. That anyone could be entertained by the goings on of a Charlie's Angles movie puzzles me. I do know there is no audience for a genuine film detailing the lives and works of a genuine underground resistance like that of the French during the German Nazi occupation.
This might be the most mundane, matter-of-fact war movie since Robert Montgomery's overlooked masterpiece The Gallant Hours. This is because the people, patriots all, who rose to fight, were pretty ordinary people from rather prosaic walks of life. When it come to resisting a foreign tyranny in the form of an occupying army it isn't a bunch of professionally trained assassins who can be counted on but politically aware citizens who organize. These are ordinary people who had to rise to a situation. It is pure Existentialism.
This is a very spare, almost Jansenist version of the true story of the French Resistance. This Melville is, as usual, the opposite side of the coin from his twin, Robert Bresson. At one point the central character played by Lino Ventura, escapes by simply running away. He is helped along the way by a man who doesn't even mention the situation or his role in assisting. Its just done because that is what one does. The German's are hardly seen as this film is simply not about them. Each death, there are very, very few of them, is a moral and ethical agony. At least for the resistance. The torture scenes are all off camera.
Directoral moments are minimal, such as when Ventura buys a new suit and shoes and then must leave them behind. Its like what soldiers say about combat, extreme longueurs of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.
The truth behind the story is that the German Gestapo commander, Klaus Barbie, the so called Butcher of Lyon, was a war criminal who was spirited out of Europe after the war by the US to train military regimes in South America in the techniques of torture that he perfected in France.
In one of the set pieces British STOL Lysander aircraft land to and take off to bring certain resistance members to London. This scene features the actual aircraft. This was particularly amazing as most Melville films suffer from budgetary constrictions which usually effect the realism of certain scenes (see the helicopter/train transfer in Un Flic) and there were possibly only two airworthy Lysanders at the time of the filming of L' Armée des ombres. The parachuting scene is also so nicely judged in its almost prosaic ordinariness, yet we know its still a jump into the seemingly limitless darkness, but which would aggravate the ADD generation. The dry, almost Islandic renderings of scenes, sometimes to the level of an Industrial film, reminds me of the flat rendering Truffaut did of simply fueling a car at a service station in Le Peau Douce. This is why Melville and Bresson were the honorary mentors of the New Wave. It was a further adaptation of Realism and neo-realism but with an awareness that at all times it was a film and therefore an adaption of reality but distorted only to make the truth more vivid.
It is a pity if, as I think, this film will fail to connect with a generation saturated on the super hero shenanigans of SFX dare-a-doings. One writer pointed out the ridiculousness of someone deliberately sending himself to prison in order to deliver a cyanide capsule, totally discounting true sacrifice for the type of action where the pretty actors manage to survive almost any cataclysm so that in the end, after the death of countless nameless and faceless minions and the elimination of the satanic villain-in-chief, while ankle deep in gore, they can have a nice chuckle. Hey babes, that's entertainment.
Looking at the restored version of L' Armée des ombres just emphasizes the death of film culture, not because there are no writers and directors who can make films like this but because there are no audiences for films like this. Highly recommended.