Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, August 25, 2006

Army of Shadows

This weekend is the last at the Belcourt for the Nashville run of Melville’s film Army of Shadows, a 1969 French movie that never got released in the U.S. before this. Every write-up about the movie points out that it is a bleak, anti-heroic view of the Resistance. In this film the members of the Resistance cell are mostly seen degraded by the violence around them and that they engage in. You never see the cell blowing up Nazi communications, but involved in assassinating a traitor, cruelly because of their uncertainty in doing it, escaping from Nazi custody, delivering transmitters to their contacts, getting a request for weapons turned down by the Brits.

The bleakness pervades the film visually. Many of the spaces are empty, and every room seems cold, although the cities (not just Paris) can’t help but be beautiful. The movie’s in color, but everything is so muted that you can forget and think you are looking at an older film.

I think the film still shows heroism, but it is a psychic sort. From a practical point of view the Resistance shown here is futile, but resistance is presented as an existential stance that faces the bleakness honestly, refusing to go along. That’s all you can do. It’s a requirement.

The acting is terrific. The lead is Lino Ventura, and at this point, thanks to Toby Leonard’s brilliant programming we’ve had a serial Lino Ventura festival at the Belcourt – at different times earlier this year we showed Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud and Classe Tou Risques. This film also has Paul Meurisse, who is tremendous, a fascinating looking guy. My wife’s favorite scene was where he simply eats some buttered bread, wallowing in this fleeting pleasure.

If you’re in Nashville, try to check out the movie this weekend (Sunday’s the last day). In other towns, well, it’s probably shown already.

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