1969's `Shadows' is a masterpiece

review A+

July 21, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The hero of Jean-Pierre Melville's masterpiece, Army of Shadows, Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), establishes a Resistance cell in the grisly early days of Nazi-occupied France. Gerbier does more than "live in the moment." He knows that each moment in life includes and creates memories - and that memories can turn awful and tragic even if they're based on experiences that seem elating and inspiring.

The rock-hard greatness of Army of Shadows goes beyond the tension of French rebels scrambling to preserve a remnant of civic virtue during the reign of the Vichy government. It's about the true glory and anguish of finding meaning in action. Melville served in the Resistance and with de Gaulle's Free French; another Resistance vet, Joseph Kessel, wrote the source novel in 1943. The moviemaking is brilliant, but it's the experience that counts.

Army of Shadows (Rialto) Starring Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Unrated. Time 145 minutes.

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