L'Armée des ombres (Army of Shadows). 1969. France. Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Adapted from the novel by Joseph Kessel. With Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel. In French; English subtitles. 35mm. 145 min.
With Army of Shadows, Jean-Pierre Melville, the French master of the philosophical, pseudo-American gangster film, drops the metaphor of the criminal underworld and deals directly with his experiences as an underground solider of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. As the central figure—a resistance leader in Marseille who needs to retain absolute anonymity—Ventura hides his charisma behind a fussy mustache and a pair of glasses, yet his inner struggle seems all the more vivid for never being brought to the surface. Heroism becomes a matter of betraying moral principles in order to preserve them. The film’s remarkable low-light cinematography is by Pierre Lhomme.