All of these strands lead to two scenes where people make crucial existential life or death decisions. One involves a captured fighter being given the choice by the Nazis to stand and be shot by machine gun or try to make a run for it to climb up a far wall and stay their execution. What crueler hangman is there than one who gives the choice to die or simply stay another day to die?
The other I won’t reveal other than to say that it raises crucial moral and political questions. Should rigid ideals be made so lofty that they supersede all human compassion and empathy? Must resistance against a political regime involve compromising one's own ethical values and principles? We feel excruciating pain for these characters as they decide these questions for the security of their small resistance group within their losing battle against a larger enemy and a government that has officially surrendered to it.
Army of Shadows, which Melville adapted from a novel by Joseph Kessel, marked one of the last movies to come out of the French New Wave movement. The film was lambasted upon its release because it was considered Gaullist at a time where animosity against De Gaulle was at its peak. It is only now that Melville’s works are gradually being ranked as some of the greatest films in world cinema and that he is duly recognized with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Louis Malle.
In an age where movies are all about putting money and visual effects on the screen, I would like to think that modern day audiences still have the patience for a resonant movie like Army of Shadows. The most brilliant quality of the movie is its ability to wait. Wait and wait with the increasing realization that there may be no rewards to reap within the fighters’ efforts. We the viewers, as powerless witnesses, simply hope that we never face the dire situations the characters face. But sadly there are some who still do.