From the opening image of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows (out on DVD 5/15) — German soldiers marching down the Champs-Élysées — you will be enthralled. Prepare to stay in a delicious state of awestruck suspense for the next 144 minutes.
The movie follows a small group of Resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Though there are plenty of exciting action scenes — a prison escape, a strangulation, a jump out of a plane — Melville’s moodily beautiful, masterly direction is at its finest during the quiet, almost dialogue-free moments. A character’s visit to a barbershop for a shave is one of the most excruciatingly tense movie scenes ever.
Both Melville and Joseph Kessel (on whose novel the film is based) were themselves Resistance fighters. Army of Shadows was officially released in 1969, but U.S. audiences didn’t get to see it until last year — be sure not to miss it.
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