Army of Shadows
(France/Italy, 1969) An amazing film about the French Resistance. I’ve seen plenty of movies where the heroic fighters of the Resistance played a part. They blow up trains, they assassinate Nazi leaders, they smuggle weapons into France, they cause all sorts of trouble. I salute them. They were genuine heroes, refusing to buckle down to the German pigs who invaded them, as so many Frenchmen did. (And as so many Americans would, if it happened to us. As so many citizens of any country would, for that matter.) It all looks very romantic, very dramatic. It is neither, though it is always terrifying. It can get incredibly ugly. One must sometimes do terrible things, and often to one’s own countrymen. There is a scene where a traitor is to be executed. They rented a house for this purpose, but someone moved in nearby, so their plan to shoot him can’t be used; the neighbors would hear. They look around for a knife, but nobody has one. They end up strangling the man with a towel, and that takes a long time. They are flooded with revulsion at what they are doing, but they know they must. At the end there is something even worse than that. A resistance movement must be furtive, and incredibly cautious. Two brothers are in the movement, and neither knows about the participation of the other. It isn’t for the faint of heart. You are almost certain to be captured sooner or later—an afterword in this based-on-fact story reveals that all but one of the characters we have been following later died after torture. One revealed only one name: His own. Something not shown but which was a daily reality was that if you killed a Nazi pig, the Nazi pigs would round up 20, 50, 100 Frenchmen at random, line them up against a wall, and shoot them. What do you do in a situation like that? Well, you swallow hard, and you assassinate the Nazi pig anyway. And you never sleep well again.