Led by a short, rotund man who carries a briefcase and speaks as if conserving his last reserves of emotion, the heroes of Army of Shadows engage in little of what counts for action these days. And yet, as directed by WWII veteran and gangster-movie master Jean-Pierre Melville, this long-unreleased French resistance drama from 1969 is deeply engrossing -- and deep in numerous other ways that one scarcely encounters at the movies anymore. The chief of the resistance group (Lino Ventura) is repeatedly apprehended by the Nazis and forced to reckon with the knowledge that any breath could be his last -- and that even if he escapes again, his group's survival will require him to execute some of those closest to him, those who have earlier saved his life. Initially dismissed by French critics for bringing a hard-boiled aesthetic to a story whose true horrors warranted greater gravity, Army of Shadows in fact reveals that all of Melville's movies about fatalistic tough guys were tales of occupation and resistance; some of them were simply forced to work in disguise.
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If you missed Army of Shadows when it briefly unspooled last September, this is your chance to catch what will surely become a classic. Shows start at Starz FilmCenter in the Tivoli beginning Friday, March 23; visit www.denverfilm.org for times and tickets.