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Film noir master Jean-Pierre Melville's masterpiece is a tense, gripping portrayal of honour and betrayal in the clandestine world of the French Resistance during the Nazi Occupation.
Released in North America for the first time in 2006, when it racked up more raves and was selected for more ten-best lists than almost any new film, Army of Shadows is a tense, gripping portrayal of honour and betrayal set in the clandestine world of the French Resistance during the Nazi Occupation. The flinty Lino Ventura stars as an engineer turned Resistance chief who, in the film's opening moments, makes a brutal escape from his Gestapo captors and sets out after the informers who betrayed his cadre. Simone Signoret brings fatalistic fatigue and immense courage to the role of a master of disguise. Melville, who himself worked for the Resistance, called the Joseph Kessel novel on which the film is based "the greatest and most comprehensive document about this tragic period in the history of humanity," and the director does it full justice, giving Army a clenched, existential tone, steely visual design, and epic gravity. "Lovers of cinema should reach for their fedoras, turn up the collars of their coats, and sneak to this picture through a mist of rain... For the first, and maybe the only, time this year, you are in the hands of a master" (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker).