Made in 1969 but released in the US for the first time in 2006, Jean-Pierre Melville's dark portrayal of the French Resistance movement begins as solemn Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a civil engineer, is transported to a French interment camp. His fellow prisoners recognize him as someone who's "needed on the outside," but before they can arrange his escape he's moved to another location and must stage his own breakout — coolly dooming the unsuspecting fellow prisoner he uses as a diversion and dispatching a young guard with unnerving calm. Set in late 1942 and early 1943, the film follows the exploits of a small group of fighters, who fight in secrecy and with little support, forced to make hard decisions and always in danger of betraying or being betrayed by other fighters. Gerbier's dedicated and associates include Felix (Paul Crauchet), The Bison (Christian Barbier) and Claude "Le Masque" (Claude Mann), introduced as they're forced to improvise the execution of a traitor (Alain Libolt); the house they've rented for the job has thin walls and new neighbors have just moved in; unable to use a gun, someone must strangle the trembling man. And someone does. Felix later recruits dashing Jean-Francois (Jean-Pierre Cassel), who may or may not be made of stern enough stuff to withstand the constant, grinding pressure, and whose older brother, Luc (Paul Meurisse), is not as oblivious to the conflict as he seems. Middle-aged Mathilde (Simone Signoret), the only women in the group, may be the best of them all: Patient, thorough and bold, she conceives and executes one brilliant plan after the other while keeping her activities completely secret from her family, including her husband and the 17-year-old daughter who proves her Achilles heel. Like all Melville's films, it's as cold as cold can be and completely free of exhilarating heroics: Melville's fighters carry out their duties with stoic determination, smothered in clammy dread, cloaked in suffocating shadows and mired in long stretches of silence — as though words were simply irrelevant in the face of relentless anxiety.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Made in 1969 but released in the US for the first time in 2006, Jean-Pierre Melville's dark portrayal of the French Resistance movement begins as solemn Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a civil engineer, is transported to a French interment camp. His fello… (more)