1942, and France is occupied by the Nazi army. Philippe Gerbier (Ventura) is to all outward appearances, a civil engineer. He has a double life with the French Resistance. Betrayed by a traitor, he is imprisoned, and sets about firstly escaping, then exacting his revenge.
Having already recalled Vichy in Le Silence De La Mer (1949) and Léon Morin, Prêtre (1961), Jean-Pierre Melville returned to the extraordinary sacrifices made by ordinary men and women in this sobering account of the quiet courage required in wartime.
Faithfully adapted from Joseph Kessel’s fictional account of the early days of French resistance to the Nazi occupation (and occasionally informed by Melville’s own experiences), this is an undeservedly neglected film. It’s also exemplary for the restrained performances of Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse (as the divisional leaders) and Simone Signoret, who informs on her comrades to prevent her daughter from being sent to a military brothel.
Thanks to the steely performances and meticulous direction, this determinedly anti-heroic account of the early days of French resistance to the Nazi Occupation is both disarmingly restrained and terrifyingly tense.