Sometimes it is a tough job, to be a cinéphile.
For the 70th anniversary of the famous "Appel du 18 Juin 1940" made by Charles De Gaulle at the BBC radio, last Friday the Centre Pompidou organized an event en plein air: the vision of the movie L'Armée des Ombres (Army of Shadows/L'Armata degli eroi) by Jean-Pierre Melville. The idea was great: to put a gigantic screen on the main façade of the building and let the people gather on the plateau Beabourg, finding a seat wherever they want. What the nice guys from the museum didn't think about, was the Parisian weather. I know, tomorrow it is Summertime, but on Friday in Paris there were 15 C°, plus a cold wind was blowing and, hey, a stone pavement is not exactly the most comfortable cinema seat ever tested.
I told a lot of friends about this amazing event, I even posted a link on my FB page to invite people to come, but in the end there were just a couple of friends who actually came (thanks Gradiva! Thanks Jordi!).
To be a real cinéphile, is not for everybody. I have to say that, in this case, the border between cinema freakness and complete craziness was very subtle. Not only we had to fight against adverse atmospheric conditions, but we had to deal with real crazy people and various drunks who took advantage of the big screen to share their thoughts and ideas with us. No thanks, maybe another time. A couple of pathetic "street artists" started a performance in the middle of the movie... what kind of mental illness they had? We were watching a Melville movie, no way our eyes could be caught by other scenes.
I had seen this film before, many years ago, and watching it again was an incredible experience. I am no surprised to read that this is considered a masterpiece of cinema history. And THE movie about French Resistance during the Second World War and the Nazi occupation of France.
Based upon the novel of Joseph Kessel, the movie follows the adventures/misadventures of a group of French resistance fighters: their tough day by day life, ruled by the fear of being captured and tortured by the Nazis. Fear that very often becomes a cruel reality: and sometimes they are able to escape, sometimes they die in prison in terrible circumstances.
This movie is so rigourous, dense, moderne. Every scene is right and necessary. Melville (who was a resistance fighter in his youth) took off all the useless things, getting to the core of the narration, so that the audience feel the fear of these men, suffer with them and want to fight with them. It is easy to do such a great job, I have to say, when you can count on such an outstanding cast: Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Serge Reggiani and Simone Signoret. Ventura's performance, in particular, should be studied in every cinema class. He is simply perfect: so dignified and human. There is this magnificent scene: he is in London during a mission and he enters by chance into a jazz club. The way he is looking at the boys and girls dancing and having fun, unaware of the bombs falling on to the city, the way he stands uneasily at the entrance, knowing he will never belong to a place like that or people like that.
It is unforgettable.
I don't know how I managed to arrive at the end of the screening without starting a freezing process, but I did. I was so taken by the images, that I actually forgot about the cold, the crazy men, the drunks. I was looking at the people seated all around the plateau Beaubourg, in the dark, and I thought that we were an army of shadows too.
We didn't have to fight in a war, it is true, but I hope that, up in the heaven of great film-makers, Melville was looking at us, feeling proud.