Jean-Pierre Melville draws upon his experiences in the French Resistance for 1969’s Army of Shadows, which depicts an ensemble including Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse working to disrupt the Nazi occupation of France, rescuing Resistance members from captivity, operating safehouses… and killing informants.
Army of Shadows‘ view of the Resistance is far from romantic, showing the ordinary people who comprise it being driven to extreme measures in the cause of remaining hidden and evading capture, and the threat of capture and death hanging over them at all times. We compare it to The Great Escape, a caper in which prisoners of war work towards a big victory – there’s nothing of the sort in Army of Shadows, the Resistance only ever staying one step ahead of the Nazis pursuing them. Resistance itself is the victory, and it comes with costs.
We think about continuities between this film and Melville’s other work. The isolation felt in Un flic and Le Doulos comes through here, the Resistance members needing to work together but constantly suspicious of one another, as anyone could turn informant; emotional connection is a danger, as it can be used as a thumbscrew. But the film depicts the courage of the Resistance, the inhumanity of the situations into which they’re forced, and elicits a range of feelings simultaneously. It’s a complex, intelligent, essential film.
One of us has seen it countless times. The other has never seen it. Fortunately for José, Mike instantly falls in love with Casablanca.
In a way, the pressure was on for Mike to enjoy it, as it’s considered one of the greatest films of all time, and its screenplay in particular held up as a shining example of the craft. And how effortless it is to enjoy it! José notes how rare it is in cinema to see a man suffer for love, as Rick does, and the film’s romance is intense and unapologetic. We swoon over the elegance of Michael Curtiz’s direction, the sheer beauty of the cinematography – nobody these days is shot like Ingrid Bergman is here – and the rich cast of characters, played by one of the all-time great supporting casts.
José considers how the refugee situation and politics depicted – that of a war-torn world relocating regular people to geographic and bureaucratic purgatory – haven’t gone away, and Mike picks up on Madeleine Lebeau’s Yvonne, a minor character whose story recapitulates Rick’s in microcosm. The Marseillaise scene in particular gives us a lot to talk about. And so does much, much more.
It’s a good film. Who knew?
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
A chamber piece about history which evokes a combination of Rembrandt and an old photograph. We discuss how Joe Wright might be getting short shrift as a director and the excellence of the performances: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn and Lily James are all marvellous. We discuss how the film is not the life of Churchill but a few defining weeks in his life, and how it depicts the political side of the chaos in Nolan’s Dunkirk.
Mike highlights how the cemeteries of Belgium and northern France tell a very different story from the official one in relation to Britain’s ‘going it alone’ in the two World Wars, and declares that one scene of clearly fabricated fantasy undermines any notion of historical verisimilitude. We discuss how the film’s emotional manipulations are cheap but how one finds oneself responding to the film’s jingoism. We are in agreement that Nigel Farage wants to be Oldman’s man-of-the-people Churchill – the entire film is rather Brexity.
José would really like to see a film that focuses on the relationship between Clemmie and Winston, played of course by Scott Thomas and Oldman, and there’s a wonderful volume of letters full of sketches of kitties and piggies called Speaking For Themselves that he wishes someone would draw on for a film. (He didn’t say that in the podcast but he wants to make it known here.)
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.