Jean-Pierre Melville’s beloved French resistance noir, the uncompromisingly gritty morality tale Army of Shadows, was re-released in 2006 after nearly 40 years of languishing unseen in America and underappreciated by English-speaking critics. A gruff uncle to the Nouvelle Vaguers, Melville’s work was often very difficult to classify — which is probably how he liked it.
A thoroughly modern, anti-heroic take on the infinite shades of gray on hand during any war, upon its re-release, Army of Shadows was rightly lauded by virtually every critic who saw it, making numerous year-end top ten lists, especially here in New York.
In the extras, we learn that: Melville was an Alsatian Jew with an authoritarian streak, who liked to direct while wearing a small cowboy hat and mirrored aviator glasses; that he had a weakness for using budget-saving tricks, which explains the slightly awkward (though somehow gripping) first scene in which raindrops were obvoiusly added post-production — along with the laughable model plane used when gruff protagonist Lino Ventura is parachuted back into France (Melville loved using the toy plane, most of his crew didn’t); that he hated any warm colors and would add a veneer of orange to his sets so he could then remove the tone from the print (thereby rendering the actual people literally gray). One extra that shouldn’t be missed is an extended BBC newsreel from 1945 in which Noel Coward narrates the last five days of the Paris resistance before the liberation — now that’s verité.
This remarkable film — and the curious idiosyncrasies of its creation — is a necessary component to any cinephile’s library.