Melville’s compositions are often very good to great, but his films aren’t. Critics hailed this as a great film about the French Resistance. The only problem with that assessment is that Army of Shadows isn’t really about the French Resistance. Unfortunately, the war in Iraq clouded the judgement of some critics. To champion a film more highly than it should be since it may (or may not) parallel some modern day situation that one disagrees with is absurd and neurotic. This is obvious from Amy Taubin’s critique of the film in the booklet that comes with the Criterion version.
Lino Ventura was excellent in his role as Philippe Gerbier. He gives a very nuanced and staunch performance. However, this is a grim reaper of a film. It is at once cynical and fatalistic, about failure and death. There is not one scene where the members of the resistance actually do anything to subvert the Nazis or Vichy France. Conversely, we are shown two scenes where resistance members are killed by other resistance members for giving out names to the Nazis. Another scene suggests one, and possibly two, captured resistance members taking their lives by swallowing cyanide. We see only one Nazi or Vichy member die. Not much of a resistance really, at least as depicted in this film.