Army of Shadows

For the book by Hillel Cohen, see Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948. For the Quebec documentary L'armée de l'ombre, see Manon Barbeau.
Army of Shadows

2006 theatrical release poster
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Produced by Jacques Dorfmann
Written by Jean-Pierre Melville
Based on Army of Shadows
by Joseph Kessel
Starring Lino Ventura
Simone Signoret
Paul Meurisse
Jean-Pierre Cassel
Music by Éric Demarsan
Cinematography Pierre Lhomme
Walter Wottitz
Edited by Françoise Bonnot
Distributed by Rialto Pictures (2006)
Release dates
12 September 1969 (France)
6 October 1970 (Italy)
1978 (UK)
28 April 2006 (US)
Running time
145 minutes
Country France
Language French

Army of Shadows (French: L'armée des ombres) is a 1969 French film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. It is a film adaptation of Joseph Kessel's 1943 book of the same name, which blends Kessel's own experiences as a member of the French Resistance with fictionalized versions of other Resistance members. Army of Shadows follows a small group of Resistance fighters as they move between safe houses, work with the Allied militaries, kill informers, and attempt to evade the capture and execution that they know is their most likely fate.[1] While portraying its characters as heroic, the film presents a bleak, unromantic view of the Resistance.[2][3]

At the time of its initial release in France, Army of Shadows was not well received or widely seen. In the wake of the events of May 1968, French critics denounced the film for its perceived glorification of Charles de Gaulle.[3] At the time American art-film programmers took their cues from Cahiers du cinéma, which had attacked the film on this basis. It was not released in the United States for almost forty years.[1][3] In the mid-1990s Cahiers du cinéma published a reappraisal of the film and Melville's work in general, leading to its restoration and re-release in 2006.[3] The film was greeted with critical adulation in the U.S., appearing in many critics' year-end top ten lists.[2][3]


Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), the head of a Resistance network, is arrested by Vichy French police, imprisoned in a camp, and transported to Paris for questioning. He makes a daring escape.

Gerbier manages the resistance network in Marseille. He and three of his men, Félix Lepercq (Paul Crauchet), Guillaume Vermersch, a burly veteran known as Le Bison (Christian Barbier), and Claude Ullmann, a young recruit known as Le Masque (Claude Mann), need to execute one of their own members, a young agent named Paul Dounat, for having betrayed Gerbier. They find the house next door to that they are using occupied, meaning they cannot use their guns. Lacking a decent knife, they strangle him.

Lepercq recruits an old friend in a bar, Jean-François Jardie (Jean-Pierre Cassel), a handsome, risk-loving former pilot. On his first mission to Paris, Jardie meets Mathilde (Simone Signoret), a housewife who is one of the linchpins of Gerbier's network, and visits to his older brother, Luc Jardie (Paul Meurisse), a renowned philosopher who lives a detached, scholarly life in his Paris mansion.

Gerbier travels to the Free French headquarters in London in a British submarine. On the submarine, Gerbier meets Luc Jardie, who proves to be the head of all Resistance networks. His identity is a closely guarded secret.

In London, Gerbier organises additional logistical support for the resistance and Luc Jardie is decorated by Charles de Gaulle. Whilst he is there Lepercq is arrested by the Gestapo. When Gerbier learns of this he cuts his trip short and parachutes into France.

Mathilde, in command after Lepercq's arrest, devises an audacious plan to rescue Lepercq, who is being tortured in a maximum-security Gestapo prison in Lyon. Jean-François Jardie, after hearing the details of the plan, writes Gerbier a letter of resignation and incriminates himself with an anonymous letter to the Gestapo so that he will be arrested and jailed with Lepercq. They share a cell, Jardie badly beaten and Lepercq now barely alive after being tortured repeatedly.

Disguised as Germans, Mathilde, Le Masque, and Le Bison use forged papers ordering Lepercq's transfer to a different detention facility as a ruse to rescue him. Their plan fails when the prison doctor pronounces Lepercq unfit for transport. When Jean-François sees that the rescue has failed, he gives Lepercq his one cyanide pill.

Having seen during the rescue attempt that the Gestapo are displaying his photo as a wanted man, Mathilde urges Gerbier to escape to London, but he refuses, saying that there is no-one to take his place in the growing Resistance. Shortly afterwards Gerbier is swept up in a raid by Vichy police and handed over to the Germans. He and his cellmates are due for execution, but subjected to an SS officer's sadistic game: they will live a little longer if they can run to the far wall of the room before being killed by the machine gunners. As the shooting starts, Mathilde's team toss smoke bombs to block the Germans' view, then throw a line to Gerbier who narrowly escapes.

Gerbier spends a month alone in an abandoned farmhouse deep in the countryside. Luc Jardie arrives to seek his advice following the arrest of Mathilde. They fear she has been forced to reveal the identities of her confederates because the Nazis have threatened her teenage daughter. Luc Jardie hides when Le Masque and Le Bison arrive. Gerbier orders Mathilde's immediate execution, but Le Bison refuses to carry out the order and swears to prevent Gerbier from killing her. Jardie emerges and convinces Le Bison that Mathilde is incapable of suicide but expects them to kill her. Later, Luc Jardie reveals to Gerbier that the argument he presented to Le Bison is purely speculative. Jardie and his team pull to a stop on a Paris street where they have located Mathilde. Le Bison shoots her twice. As the film ends, text screens reveal the eventual fate of the four men, dead by suicide or killed by the Nazis.

(The character of Luc Jardie is partly based on the philosopher/resistance leader Jean Cavaillès.)

DVD, Blu-ray releases

Army of Shadows was released on DVD in Region 2 by the British Film Institute in November 2006 and in Region 1 by the Criterion Collection in May 2007. In 2013 Studiocanal Collection released a special Blu-ray edition including bonus documentary and booklet


Critical reception

When it was originally released in France in 1969, the movie, coming shortly after the events of May 68, had a poor critical reception because of the political context: De Gaulle was rather unappreciated at the time, and the glorification of the resistance had become taboo during the Algerian War. As a result of the poor reviews, the film was not distributed widely outside France, though it was very well received in the late seventies on its British release. American audiences were only able to discover the movie in 2006 when it was reissued, after which the film appeared in many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2006.[4]

General top ten

Its score on the review site Metacritic is 99/100.[5]


External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/31/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.