I've become crap about movies in the last year or so. I've seen two ("Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Match Point") in the theaters over the past 12 months, and my Netflix selections regularly languish, unloved and unwatched, for a good month.
So it was kind of an achievement to actually get out yesterday, and see Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" on the big screen (true to form, I waited until the very last showing in Atlanta). But any time that I get the chance to see a Melville film on the big screen, I've gotta take it.
I'm not remotely a cinephile, but I love, love, love Melville. I was introduced -- not sure how (Noah is the most likely suspect, but I may have seen a note in a film guide) -- to his masterpiece, "Le Samouraï," some years back and I've been an addict ever since. In the last couple years, Rialto and Criterion have made some of his films leagues more accessible in the U.S., for which I forever hold them in high esteem, but there's still a bunch that I can't see unless I find super-hip underground film circles.
"Army of Shadows" (or "L'Armée des ombres," if you're really cool) was one of those -- this is, I believe, its first-ever U.S. release. It's a tale of the French Resistance during World War II (Melville -- then Jean-Pierre Grumbach -- was involved). It's startingly unromanticized and bleak -- only one figure could remotely be classified as dashing, far from the stereotype of the Resistance fighter.
Melville's trademarks are here -- the trenchcoated hero (Lino Ventura, who I'd never heard of before -- I told you I wasn't a film scholar), the lonely shots of the French countryside. All the other JPM films I've seen have been crime-oriented; while this is much different subject matter, there's still a lot of similarities to be found... just substitute the Resistance for the gang of thieves in the others.
It's not perfect (I've seen people refer to this as his best; I disagree strongly). It feels bloated with some unnecessary scenes, and the editing's a bit weird in spots. It's far from the spare "Le Samouraï." But the performances are brilliant, top to bottom -- characters who were on the screen for one scene had presence -- and it's really well-shot.
This'll probably spur a Melville revival in my house (like books, I have a whole stack of DVDs that I've yet to watch -- but they'll be shunted aside in favor of seeing "Le Cercle Rouge" or whatever for a fifth time). Something to look forward to!