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This review is from: Army of Shadows [DVD] (DVD)
Slow, brooding, overcast, filled with muted colourful scenes that echo across the channel; walking through caked mud, cuckoos, the winding roads...but there it stops.
This follows a group of men and women who live forever on the edge of a precipice. Each moment is savoured as the full intensity of being alive, is brought home every ticking second. Under the cosh of the German regime, surveillance, the look for anything that disturbs the pre set rhythms is taken away to one of 49 concentration camps, bespoked in France for closer inspection. We are taken to one at the beginning of the film. Jews, gypsies, communists, Spaniards, every nationality is pushed together as suspected agents of pre collaborationist France. Meanwhile we see the French police act with both "could not care less," the journey in the van to a more intense zeal when they realise who Gerbier is, within the camp.
Escape is forever dominating the mind and taking chances in the mid period of collaboration entailed risks of being denounced as everyone had to play the double game, outward Vichy, inward freedom from constraint.
Later we learn Gerbier is denounced from the beginning taken from the camp he awaits his fate in the hotel. Interrogation and death is the outcome, either through beating or being sent East to be gassed. Each moment ticks, as he weighs up his chances, the suspended moments before having to act.
In the end the pull of life over power the feelings of inertia, he acts and he flees. The resistance is filled with moments of headbutting the partition wall of naked power, and often coming away battered bruised and life sentenced. French Collaborators and German Gestapo weed out those who do not wish to stay within the Vichy confines and this is the essence of the "game."
Recruting like minded others, trust has to be the crucial invisible entity that binds them altogether. Any sniff that trust is about to be broken and this sends paroxysms down the nervous system. Without trust they are all vulnerable and open to annihilation. The film makes this point succinctly throughout.
Counterpoints to the break of trust are the new found allies, former rightists who detest the direction the country has undertaken and seek to support the new liberatory effort. Everyone plays double, triple games whilst holding onto an inner core of wanting to transcend the immediate situation. No trains are blown or banks robbed but there are quiet murders, that throw the stomach of the participants into their mouths. Real killing is never a computer game walkover, it entails feeling the full impact of taking a life which haunts the subsequent dreams.
Walking through checkpoints and learning to play out of the stereotype and into another, having the front to walk through the iron gates of confinement, to play the bluff for the most dire of consequences. Planning and acting are the themes along with the bonds of mutuality. For the resistance as we see when Gerbier comes to London, act for the cause of life rather than death, biophilia rather than necrophilia. Transfixed when seeing the beauty of women dancing in a dim nightclub whilst the bombs fall on rationale for the struggle emerges, apart from the sense of burning resentment.
A haunting meticulous film, based on the mundanity of resistance, building up the trust, taking risks and being caught, then facing the final consequences. This is when you really begin to know your friends and the true value of comradeship. In moments like these when each life hangs to the others by a thread of connection, the tiniest vibration sends off a shudder. Meanwhile those who have power extract through the tiniest chinks in the armour their utmost revenge for any resistance.
A great film that works as a historical document and allegory about standing up to brutal power. A film that plays on the senses as the end, what ever the outcome is never going to be resettling into domesticity. Every sense heightened for months on end will create a new vista of meaning.
The film is an entrance point into this world, created by someone who inhabited the psychology of the era. More than worth any effort, this rewards anyone who enters into this arena. This is no uniform fetishist adolescent tea party; the real heroes look like bank clerks or road diggers, not the blond beasts of incessant inner propaganda.