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Army of Shadows (1969)

Finally receiving a long-overdue release in the United States, the French classic Army of Shadows is a near-masterpiece at exhibiting the corrosive nature of war and political oppression upon the human mind and soul. Following the efforts of a small resistance organization formed in France during the Nazi occupation of World War II, the film observes with a detached, ethereal sterility the crushing spiritual oppression of this time in history, particularly exhibited by these individuals who give everything and more to an idea that has very little chance of manifesting within their own lifetimes. A sense of unity exists between the persecuted, many of whom have come together from all walks of life to stand up against the monstrous evil of the Third Reich; the practices of war, however, see that even the most good-hearted of people must often perform the most heinous of deeds if they are to keep themselves and their beliefs alive. They operate silently, deliberately, and with the utmost patience; this is the political thriller stripped of its glamorous intellectual overtones. The film is reminiscent of The Battle of Algiers in its capturing the processes of these dedicated insurgents, although Army of Darkness emerges darker in that it doesn’t (and can’t) follow through to witness any sort of victory. The magnificent opening shot sees a line of Nazi troops march before the L’Arc de Triomphe, ultimately turning towards the camera and encroaching menacingly upon the viewer. The frame seems to exist as a constrictive force against these freedom fighters, the steady camerawork reinforcing the rigidity of society and their inability to alter it. While certainly not meant to instill a sense of optimism towards the chances of the righteous underdog, Army of Shadows portrays with staggering authenticity the degrading effects that often accompany a determination to fight the good fight.