Ranking: #105/111

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville (France)    

Genre: War Drama

Melville creates a sombre blue-grey undertone, with blue-toned pastel colours predominating in the movie, to convey a mood of sadness. This is a disciplined, yet atmospheric, war drama about the dangers faced, and risks taken, by the French Resistance during the German occupation of France in World War 2. It doesn’t glamorise the Resistance but does show the bravery and devotion needed to do such perilous work. There is seldom any hint of sentimentality in Melville’s films, most of which have a gritty authenticity.

The film traces the clandestine movements of a small cell of Resistance fighters. They are forced to live in safe houses to avoid capture by the Germans. They work with the Allied forces and carry out secret work and, when required, kill informers. Whenever one of them is captured, their captors torture them to find out what their breaking point is.

This is a taut, suspenseful war drama, with the Resistance fighters all engaged in a life-and-death struggle to survive. The film has a personal ring to it, too, as Melville was drafted into the army in 1937, aged only twenty, and it is believed he was involved in the Resistance between 1941 and 1943. He was drawing on some of his own war time experiences while depicting, in as much detail as possible, the life of Resistance fighters. “In this film, for the first time, I show things that I have seen, that I have experienced…I have created a retrospective reverie, a nostalgic pilgrimage back to a period that profoundly marked my generation,” Melville explained in an interview by Rui Nogueira, recorded in the book Melville on Melville first published in 1971.

The film is a triumph of tone and authenticity, one of the director’s best, most sincere, works.