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500 Five-Star: Army of Shadows (1969)

September 20, 2011


A drama focusing on a group of resistance fighters in Occupied France.  If you know me personally, you’ll know that sounds right up my street.  Army of Shadows would basically have to be a disaster of Alphaville proportions for me not to get some enjoyment out of such a subject matter and happily, that is definitely not the case.  However I would be lying if I said it was as great as I was expecting.  It’s an impressive film, no doubt about that.  Director Jean-Pierre Melville is not interested in a romaticised version of resistance, and he has created a memorably downbeat picture.  While the actions of the lead characters may be heroic, there is nothing exciting or fun about the lives they are leading.  Chased constantly by the Gestapo (often leading to capture and torture), spending weeks in solitude, being forced to kill any threat to the cause (whether friend or enemy)…Melville is relentless in his depiction of the reality of Nazi opposition.  The constant threat and fear hanging over the protagonists creates a tension that takes a good few hours to shake off, and it is this melancholic atmosphere which makes Army of Shadows so interesting.  The performances too are superb, especially that of Simone Signoret.

Saying all of that, there was still something missing for me.  The story is very slow paced, and at 140 minutes, it takes a great deal of concentration to stay involved throughout the whole picture.  The downbeat nature also creates a problem in that none of the characters are particularly sympathetic.  Their cause certainly is, but in refusing to idealise this life, Melville has almost gone too far the other way.  Stylistically, it’s also rather unexciting…and again, in a film as long as this, it’s small touches like that which stop the mind wandering slightly.


An excellent film, but it just didn’t reach top level for me.  I’m sad to have to disagree with Empire this time.


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