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Army of Shadows(1969)
The film follows a band of resistance fighters in German-controlled France. As the war continues, the grip of the occupying force tightens, and friendships, loyalty and trust give way to suspicion, secrecy and loss.
For more about Army of Shadows and the Army of Shadows Blu-ray release, see Army of Shadows Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on December 30, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Writer: Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret, Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet
» See full cast & crew
Army of Shadows Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, December 30, 2010
Jean-Pierre Melville's "L'armée des ombres" a.k.a "Arny of Shadows" (1969) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an audio commentary with film historian Ginette Vincendeau; interview with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme; interview with editor Francoise Bonnot; selection of excerpts from the French television program L'invite du dimanche; documentary film produced by Philippe Quinconneau for Studio Canal; original trailers; and more. In French, German and English, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
France, 1942. Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura, 125 rue Montmartre, Le Deuxieme Souffle), a civil engineer and one of the leaders of "Army of Shadows" (the French Resistance), is sent to a concentration camp where he meets a young communist who offers to help him escape. He accepts the offer. Shortly after, Philippe is arrested and transported to Hotel Majestic, the Gestapo headquarters in Paris.
Philippe manages to escape. A few days later, the traitor is located and taken to an abandoned house where he is tied to an old chair. A man grabs his legs, while another gags him. The second man then strangles him. The body is wrapped up in a blanket and left to rot. Before they leave, the men in the room agree that what they've just done was absolutely necessary.
Back on the streets of Paris, Gestapo and the Vichy police begin tracking down Philippe's men. Some panic and leave, but new men join "Army of Shadows".
Philippe is asked to accompany the most important man (Paul Meurisse, Les diaboliques) in "Army of Shadows" to London, where members of the British government are expecting him. The two board a submarine that takes them away.
Meanwhile, Gestapo captures one of Philippe's best men, Felix (Paul Crauchet, Dernier domicile connu). When the news reaches London, Philippe immediately packs his bags and heads back to France. Assisted by a woman named Mathilde (Simone Signoret, Room at the Top), the veteran fighter "Le Bison" (Christian Barbier, Le franciscain de Bourges), and the ambitious "Le Masque" (Claude Mann, La baie des anges), Philippe draws up an ambitious plan to rescue Felix.
Army of Shadows is directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, whose Bob le Flambeur (1956), Le Deuxieme Souffle (1966), Le Samourai (1967), and Le Cercle Rouge (1970) are amongst the greatest gangster films ever made. It is based on the novel by Joseph Kessel, whose famous Belle de Jour was also adapted and made into a marvelous film directed by the legendary Luis Bunuel.
Army of Shadows is about real heroes who look like real people. They are men and women from various social classes and cultural backgrounds. Many of them are weak and indecisive. Almost all of them are afraid to die. The focus of attention is on their thoughts and feelings, rather than their clashes with the enemy. Naturally, the best scenes in Melville's film are dialog-free - these are the moments where the heroes question themselves or begin collapsing under the enormous pressure of the environment they have been placed in. Some become traitors; others opt for the cyanide capsule.
The film is dark, cold, and infused with fatalism. Like Melville's Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge, it is also firmly controlled - everything happens in a methodical fashion and for a good reason, though not everything immediately makes sense to the viewer. What does is that the heroes are fighting a strange war, and at least for the duration of the film their side isn't winning.
Note: Army of Shadows was screened theatrically in the United States for the first time in 2006.
Army of Shadows Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.84:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"Supervised by director of photography Pierre Lhomme, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from the original 35mm camera negative, restored by Studio Canal. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Telecine supervisor: Pierre Lhomme.
Telecine colorist: Raymond Terrentin/Eclair, Paris."
This Blu-ray release represents a strong upgrade in quality over the R2 Pan-European SDVD release of Army of Shadows Studio Canal released quite some time ago. Fine object detail is very good, clarity dramatically improved, and contrast levels consistent throughout the entire film. It is the color reproduction, however, that impresses the most - the variety of cold blues, browns, grays, and blacks look fantastic. The nighttime scenes in particular have benefited enormously; on the R2 SDVD many of them look blocky and even smeared, but now they are well detailed and full of healthy colors. Edge-enhancement is not an issue of concern, though I noticed traces of it popping up here and there. Additionally, some minor noise corrections have been performed, but the fine film grain has been retained. Many of the close-ups for instance look wonderful. There are no serious stability issues either; however, early into the film, and at the very end (where the main characters' profiles are listed), I noticed some extremely light background shimmer. All in all, I am indeed very pleased with the technical treatment. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Army of Shadows Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: French LPCM 1.0 and French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (with potions of German and English). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic tracks. The stereo track was created by Studio Canal from the original stems. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated audio workstation."
The French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is excellent. The dialog is crisp, clean, stable, and exceptionally easy to follow. There are no balance issues with Eric Demarsan's moody music score either. I also did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
I ran a couple of quick comparisons between the French LPCM 1.0 track, the French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and the French Dolby Digital 2.0 track from the R2 SDVD. The French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track clearly has the stronger dynamic amplitude - when Philippe Gerbier is getting ready to jump from the British plane, the engine noise is most effective on the French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The underground execution scene also sounds better with the French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The dialog, however, is just as clean, stable, and easy to follow on the French LPCM 1.0 track.
Army of Shadows Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Army of Shadows Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Arguably Jean-Pierre Melville's best film, Army of Shadows transitions to Blu-ray in an impressive fashion. The film looks and sounds the best it ever has, and Criterion's supplemental features are indeed outstanding. Let's hope that some of the French director's classic gangster films - Bob le Flambeur, Le Deuxieme Souffle, Le Samourai, and Un flic - will also get a similar treatment. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Army of Shadows Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Criterion Blu-ray in January 2011: Brooks, Fuller, Haskin, Melville - October 15, 2010
After a quiet December, Criterion will kick off the New Year with renewed energy, as five very varied titles have been announced for Blu-ray release in January. On January 11, The Army of Shadows (L'armée des ombres; Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969) and Robinson Crusoe ...
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