Sunday, July 19, 2009
It's not exactly a light summer movie, but do yourself a favor and watch Army of Shadows if you have the time. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and originally released in 1969, Army of Shadows looks at a microcosm of the French Resistance in 1943, during the midst of World War II.
Despite being an ample 145 minutes long, Army of Shadows manages to stay consistently tense throughout its runtime, culminating in an ambiguous concluding sequence that should linger for a while in your mind. The protagonist, an electrical engineer who goes by Gebier, is tubby and soft-spoken, not exactly the most physically imposing presence ever. However, he manages to be quite the badass (though he does have some moments of weakness) and a memorable character overall. My main issue with this film lies with some of its substandard "special" effects and production design. I'm sure I come across as a superficial dick by making that statement, but I found some of the more blatant moments of cheapness to be really distracting, bad even by 1969 standards. In the beginning, rain is scratched onto the film. Then when water is actually available, we see rain only pouring locally on a car in the shot, This "rain" promptly subsides as the car departs the screen and stops before the shot even ends. Bombs apparently do not implode buildings. Apparently, they just light the roof of a building on fire. A plane flying at night is depicted as a white cut-out on a black screen. In a pivotal scene, a machine-gun crew responsible for an execution disappear in and out of the shot. So, the film was clearly lacking on the budgetary end. But still, those budgetary defects are only temporary distractions, not enough, by far, to cripple this film from greatness. Definitely give this one a watch. I'd go as far as to say it's one of the finest works in Criterion Collection's catalog of gems.