The Second World War has featured a thousand times in films but this atmospheric and gripping masterpiece by Jean-Pierre Melville is one of the best movie on the subject.
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.
Jean-Pierre Melville (“Le Cercle Rouge”, “Le Samouraï”) was in the Resistance during WO II which makes this project very personal to him. “L’armée des ombres” is filmed in very dark and bleak colours and projects the state of mind of the Resistance during the war. The tension, the fear, the paranoia is very present on the screen and is powerfully portrayed by the actors. This is not an action film but a look at the sacrifices those people had to make against the oppressor. This movie has a very realistic approach to the terror on the street.
“L’armée des ombres” is the adaption of the novel by Joseph Kessel.
Lino Ventura and Melville didn’t speak to each other during the filming of this movie. They had an altercation during the shooting of their previous film “Deuxième Souffle” and an assistant had to serve as an intermediary between both men. Ventura was forced to do a second film with Melville due to his contract.
The film came out in 1969, at a time where the glorification of Charles de Gaulle and the Resistance was not well seen after the students revolt of May 1968. “L’armée des ombres”, was therefore not well received by critics, but it managed to be a box-office success. The reputation of the film has since then evolved and is universally seen as one of the best French film in history.
The film features a great cast including Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel and Simone Signoret.