If it is one of the greatest films that evoke one of the darkest pages of our history, Army of Shadows was shot behind the scenes in a rather harmful atmosphere, which also influenced Simone Signoret to some extent.
October 1942. Suspected of Gaullist sympathies, Philippe Gerber, architect of Pontes and Chaucet, is held in a free zone in a concentration camp. As he prepares to escape in the company of Legrain, a communist with whom he shares his barracks, he is taken by Gestapo agents to the Majestic Hotel in Paris for questioning. But he managed to escape…
Jean-Pierre Melville left to join Free France in London in 1942, nearly a quarter of a century before he brought to the screen the eponymous novel Joseph Kessel, written according to the testimonies of resistance fighters, collected during his exile in London and shown in Algiers. in 1943.
Released in 1969, when the country was still going through post-May 1968 convulsions, The Army of Shadows is one of the greatest films that evoke the period of resistance and occupation. The movie has been meticulously and very coolly directed, and it’s carried on by a fantastic cast. Lino Ventura of course, as Gerbier. But also Jean-Pierre Cassel, Paul Crochet, Claude Mann, Paul Morris. And of course Simone Signoret, a female character sacrificed in a life-or-death struggle waged by the Resistance on their own.
A comprehensive and frank film about the period, which will upset Josef Kessel greatly when he sees it for the first time in preview. “His affection at the end of the show is one of my strongest memories.” Jean-Pierre Melville explained in a 1971 interview with Portuguese writer and journalist Rui Nogueira.
“When he read the last words announcing the deaths of the four characters, I felt an uncontrollable sob. He had not expected this four-line epitaph, which he did not write in his work and which I did not include in the text”.
On set, not only was the atmosphere icy between Lino Ventura and the director, leftovers from the actor’s displeasure over an incident on the set of Second Wind. “This domineering side sometimes brought her into conflict with some of her representatives. For Simone Signoret there was a great respect, which he could not intimidate her as he did with some.” said Bertrand Tavernier in an excellent documentary dedicated to the film, available on Blu-ray of the film. However, it didn’t seem like the director was entirely unhappy with scaring the actress away.
As Jean-Pierre Cassel recalled in his memories of the actress: “When we were supposed to shoot the scene where I go to her house to get her a radio, Jean-Pierre came into my make-up room and said to me, ‘Okay, we’re shooting with Simone today.'” have you seen? She is very, very afraid. Don’t rush, we won’t be shooting the scene before 4pm. You’ll see, we’ll go ahead and tweak the plan, and you’ll ask me: “And if we have a little Jean-Pierre whiskey?”
The actress, who was 48 years old at the time, was suffering from alcoholism which caused her to age prematurely. Considering herself to be less demanding professionally, she was going through a difficult phase of her life and constantly doubted herself. Melville didn’t always seem to make it easy to reassure her.
In the movie’s final sequence, where her comrades end up being shot dead in the street, she didn’t know how to play that scene, nor what form to be in when facing those who came to shoot her.
Then she turned to Melville and said, ‘Jean-Pierre, what am I doing here?’ And he looked at him and said, How is that? What do you mean? ‘But did she betray them or not?’ I asked, to which he replied as if she had just posed a paradox. ‘Why are you asking me that question? I don’t know ! If you cheated, you know that. If you haven’t cheated, you know that too. You have a conscience.
Now we’re coming to shoot you. Whether you find this fair or unfair, I don’t know. Show me. And there the “engine!” Simon does something incredible, because in the end we don’t know. The plan is very vague. Remember Jean-Pierre Cassel.
In his memoirs published in 1975, Nostalgia isn’t what it used to beThe actress will return to try it. “When we passed the four men in the car, there was an exchange of looks between Mathilde and her friends: I understood that they were going to shoot her. If, a little earlier, Melville had not spoken to me while he was speaking, surely it would not have been this look: surprise, terror and understanding at the same time.” … So drove, Melville: a word thrown into the conversation, a formidable indication!”
A director’s elegant homage to a professional affair not born under better care. Five years ago, Melville and Senoret were to make a movie together, Dead. “I did photo-tests, make-up, etc…and then it just didn’t happen, for reasons I don’t want to go back.” Signoret commented very frankly, and was interviewed on the popular show Sunday guestin 1969. “We’ve been cold like this for five years. And like all good people who have had a cold at some point, there is now a kind of great love.”