The Army of Shadows on Arte: why Lino Ventura no longer spoke to Melville - Actus Ciné

The Army of Shadows on Arte: why Lino Ventura no longer spoke to Melville – Actus Ciné

On the set of The Army of Shadows, the atmosphere is icy because of a disagreement between Lino Ventura, star of the film, and Jean-Pierre Melville. But where does it come from and why did the two men work together again after their estrangement?

Army of Shadows is a powerful film, the favorite of cinematographer Roger Deakins, and important to its director Jean-Pierre Melville, who put many of his memories of occupied France into it.

The shooting of this feature film will however be very tense due to the disagreement between the star of the film, Lino Ventura, and the filmmaker. To understand where these complicated reports come from, we have to go back a few years.

We are in 1966, Jean-Pierre Melville makes Paul Meurisse and Lino Ventura shoot in a film noir called The Second Breath. The story is that of an escapee (Ventura) whom a superintendent (Meurisse) chases.

During the film, Ventura’s character has to catch up with a moving train to get on it. Unbeknownst to the actor, Melville gives instructions to the driver of the vehicle so that he goes faster and that Ventura must really suffer to succeed in climbing, which according to him will look better on the screen.

The scene is shot without the actor knowing anything about this stratagem. When he learns of this machination much later, Ventura will declare outright that he will no longer work with the director. Until this day of 1969.


Lino struggles to jump on the bandwagon because of Melville

Indeed, Jean-Pierre Melville remembers the good memory of the ex-wrestler who became an actor to offer him a new feature film alongside Paul Meurisse: The Army of the Shadows. Adapted from Joseph Kessel, the film takes place in occupied France, and follows Gerbier, engineer of the Ponts et Chaussées, one of the leaders of the Resistance. Denounced and captured, he is incarcerated in a prison camp. As he prepares his escape, he is picked up by the Gestapo.

Known for being a man of principles and his word, Ventura really does not want to work with Melville again and refuses the role. Except that the filmmaker has a binding Ventura contract, which still owes the director a film. The actor therefore accepts with regret and the atmosphere on the set is electric. Ironically, The Army of Shadows addresses, among other things, the theme of the given word and betrayal.


Simone Signoret and Lino Ventura in The Army of Shadows

Witness to the situation, Bertrand Tavernier, then press secretary for Melville, recounted years later :

I remember once, at the restaurant, Lino lifted the tablecloth and said, “I want to make sure the hyena isn’t under the table.” [Melville et lui] spoke to each other through their assistants, but always very politely.

To communicate, Melville and Ventura go through assistants and limit any verbal exchange to the strict minimum and to what is essential for the shooting. Despite this terrible climate, the feature film still totaled 1.4 million admissions, which is in the average of usual Melville films.

About 2 months later, Ventura will forget this complicated shoot by sharing the success of Le Clan des Siciliens with Jean Gabin and Alain Delon for a nice score of 4.82 million tickets sold. Released from his contract, he will never work with Jean-Pierre Melville again.

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