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Army of Shadows (1969)

by British Film Critic

Army Of Shadows explores a facet of history, or World War 2 to be more specific, that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with, and one that I was more than happy to dive into: that being the attempts at espionage by members of the Allied resistance, against the Axis forces in Nazi-occupied France. However, it’s not just the concept that’s investing, but Jean-Pierre Melville’s electric direction, and the depressingly riveting atmosphere that’s present all throughout the film that makes it such a large part of what makes Army Of Shadows so great.

There’s an impending feeling of doubt and hopelessness that looms over the film – we’re watching brave spies resist against the Nazi regime, and yet the prevailing feeling is that of despair. With the film being released almost 25 years after the end of the Second World War, audiences back then, and of course audiences now, were well aware of the Nazis’ ultimate defeat, and yet we question all throughout the film whether these notions were even necessary in the end, and whether the immense loss of life, trust and dignity amounted to anything at all.

With that being said, there are two sides to how to interpret the film: is it indeed the glum acceptance that resistance is futile, or it is a melancholy commemoration of those whose achievements in fighting the Nazis go unrecognised to this day, those who played their part in fighting fascism, knowing full well their praises would go unsung?

That is entirely up to you, but those lingering questions, along with the unparalleled, sleek style of Melville, some of the better cinematography in a film I’ve ever seen from Pierre Lhomme and the devotion of the performances from the likes of Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, and Jean-Pierre Cassel are what make Army Of Shadows the very distinctive brand of war film that it is, and are ultimately what makes it so unforgettable.