Director : Jean-Pierre Melville
This film ranked #11 in Time Out's list of the 100 greatest French films. Click here to see the full list.
Discretion is the better part of valour, they say. And you couldn’t imagine a more discreet tribute to the heroes of the wartime French Resistance than this terrific late-’60s thriller by the ex-Maquis member Melville, the director best known for his gangster masterpieces like ‘The Samourai’. Tracing the self-sacrificial exploits from October 1942 to February 1943 of a small group of field operatives – the acerbic Lino Ventura’s ex-engineer, Simone Signoret’s iron-nerved Mathilde among them – Melville’s film adopts a formal essentialism to outline the codes and manners of impassive-looking ‘warriors’ over whom the Damocles sword of discovery, torture and death is ever hovering.
Of the themes with which the director deals so superbly – disguised emotion, organisation, trust, quiet courage, betrayal and grief – the most important is that of loyalty (and its price). The film boasts a startling visual quality, too – the suspenseful twilight escapades are shot with a beautifully muted, steely-grey colour palette by cinematographer Pierre Lhomme – and it is laced with moments of dry, sardonic wit that serve only to emphasise its devastating emotional core even more. Superb.