Review: ‘Army of Shadows’ Is Jean-Pierre Melville’s Magnum Opus

ARMY OF SHADOWS Film Poster

Though director Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows was released in 1969, it didn’t premiere in the United States until 2006. Starting today, Army of Shadows will play for a one-week engagement at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills, and if you’re a Melville fan, it’s an event you don’t want to miss.

The film, which centers on a group of brave French resistance fighters during World War II, begins with Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) interned in a Vichy camp. Any kind of imprisonment in Nazi occupied France is sure death for any resistance fighter, and Philippe narrowly escapes to live another day. A high ranking member of the network, Philippe’s main loyalty is to its leader Luc (Paul Meurisse), and both of them are dedicated to the cause, even if it means killing some of their closest (yet eventually traitorous) colleagues in the process.

As witnessed in Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge, Melville’s male protagonists are terse tough guys who usually keep their feelings at bay. Even if they live a life of crime – their laser like focus helps them achieve the task at hand. That same dynamic is evident in Army of Shadows, but one of the film’s most pleasurable surprises is the strongest character is Mathilde (Diabolique star Simone Signoret), the most resourceful member of the organization. Whether it’s attempting to extract a resistance fighter from a Nazi stronghold or simply hiding in plain sight, Mathidle is an invaluable member to the team.

Melville’s superb command of the cinematic language is also a trademark of Army of Shadows. Through the use of unexpected voiceovers, pinpoint pacing, and kinetic action sequences, Army of Shadows is a story that should keep you immersed from the opening frame.

Running at a meaty 145 minutes, Army of Shadows is an epic that serves not only as an acting showcase for Signoret and Ventura (who is just as memorable as Melville’s creative muse Alain Delon) but also as proof of Melville’s ability to paint a visually and emotionally arresting narrative on a broad canvas.

Jean-Pierre Cassel, who plays new recruit Jean-Francois Jardie, also gives a standout performance in the feature. Jardie’s biggest task is to deliver a radio transmitter to Mathilde in Paris, and the directer uses Jardie’s attempts to evade Nazis checking suitcases in a train station as one of the story’s most nail biting moments. If you already didn’t know or thought this actor reminded you of another actor, the late Cassel is the father of actor Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s Twelve, Eastern Promises).

Jean-Pierre Melville, though often known as the king of the French gangster films, brought much more narrative subtext to his body of work. One doesn’t have to dig too deep to find those thematic jewels in Army of Shadows, and thankfully Melville doesn’t turn the movie into a preachy tribute to resistance fighters. In war, tragedy is an unfortunate bedfellow to courage, and though this “army” is a forced to be reckoned with, time may not be on their side. Another brilliant outing from Jean-Pierre Melville, Army of Shadows is the director’s magnum opus, the crown jewel that rests atop his stunning body of work.


For more info on Army of Shadows, please go to Ahyra Fine Arts’ official site.

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Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi


‘Mustang’ Travels Through “Pioneer Territory” of Womanhood

MUSTANG director Deniz Gamze Ergüven

MUSTANG director Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Directed with passion and precision by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang centers on five orphaned sisters (Tugba Sunguroglu, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, and Gunes Sensoy) who innocently frolic on the beach with their male classmates in Northern Turkey. Their actions have a tragic domino effect, as they are imprisoned in their homes by their grandmother and abusive uncle and are gradually married off. These brave girls continue to persevere and enjoy their lives even through soul crushing adversity, and it’s their respective journey which has inspired moviegoers from around the world. The film is France’s official entry for the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category and also was honored with the Europa Cinemas award at the Cannes Film Festival.

The coming of age story is a well worn genre in cinema, but it’s a narrative that is mainly seen through the male’s perspective. Mustang tackles life through the perspective of each of these young girls, and their heartrending and compelling stories has definitely struck a chord.

“It resonates not only with women in Turkey, but everywhere. It’s a point of view which has been (rarely) explored through art history, through cinema history,” says Mustang director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, We’re used to seeing the world through the eyes of men, and womanhood is completely pioneer territory.”

In the audio clip below, Ergüven elaborates on how these girls approach their “gloomy” reality with strength and perseverance:


Mustang opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, November 20.




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Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi


Alex Jennings Explores ‘The Lady In The Van’ With Maggie Smith

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The Lady In The Van is the true story of Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a woman who lived in a van for 15 years outside the London domicile of writer Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys). Bennett would publish a memoir of those years and would eventually turn his account into The Lady In the Van stage play (which featured Smith in the role).

Cut to nearly 15 years later, and director Nicolas Hytner and Bennett teamed up to turn the play into a feature film, with celebrated theater actor Alex Jennings, who previously played Bennett in Hymn & Cocktail Sticks (Untold Stories), on board as the scribe.

“I’d played Alan before on stage and have known him for a long time so he was sort of in my head and heart” says Jennings. “It’s odd playing someone you know quite well and a bit odd for him as well. He said he had the odd, spooky moment because we filmed it at the actual house where it all happened. He would be outside on the street and he’d see me, dressed as him, sit at a desk or walk past the window. But he’s written the piece, so someone’s got to be playing (him)!”

In the clip below, Alex Jennings talks about how The Lady In The Van keeps the memory of the unsentimental and often unsparing Miss Shepherd alive (He also mentions Maggie Smith and the Bodleian Libary in audio piece).




The Lady In The Van will have a one week awards qualifying run starting December 4 and it will open in New York and Los Angeles January 15.


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Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi

Julia Roberts Brings “Unique Approach” To ‘Secret In Their Eyes’

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Julia Roberts plays Jess, an FBI investigator on the hunt for the man who murdered her daughter (Zoe Graham) in Secret In Their Eyes. Jess’ colleage Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Claire (Nicole Kidman), a District Attorney supervisor, aids Jess in the investigation.

The Los Angeles set narrative jumps between two time periods, as Ray has spends over a decade obsessed with the investigation, which is eventually closed due to extenuating circumstances. This travesty of justice obviously takes its toll on both Jess and Ray. “I think this character was written in such a clear way and the biggest part of my preparation was figuring out what she looked like in the beginning and what she looked like 13 years after and then structuring the performance around that, in a way,” said Roberts, whose husband Daniel Moder served as the movie’s cinematographer. “It was a unique approach.”

Click on the media bar below to hear Julia Roberts discuss her collaboration with Daniel Moder.



The movie, directed by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach), is a remake of the Oscar winning film El Secreto De Sus Ojos.

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Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi

Cory Michael Smith Loves ‘Gotham’ Growth of Edward Nygma

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Life, at times, can be a question wrapped inside of a riddle, and it’s an equation that’s obviously part of Edward Nygma’s life. Whether it’s attempting to overcome his past demons or meeting with such fateful people like the Penguin, Nygma is destined to become The Riddler, and it’s a gradual evolution that is appreciated by actor Cory Michael Smith, who plays the enigmatic character on FOX’s sophomore series Gotham.

“Season one I wanted him to feel really young, I wanted him to feel adolescent, and I think his emotional scale was relative to that,” said Smith. “And in season two, I’ve had some writing that’s really kind of like let him drop his guard, which is really nice because he never really did that in season one until the finale when he was by himself, and so he’s kind of like is starting to breathe. And when anyone actually lets themselves breathe . . . you’re a bit more present, you’re available, and so Ed’s emotional life is going to get more mature as he matures, as his is confronting manhood and having to make these big decisions in his life.”

In the clip below, Smith talks about the “amazing fan base” that supports Gotham.


Gotham airs Monday evenings on FOX (8 pm et/pt).



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Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi