Like many purveyors of the supercool gangster flick, Jean-Pierre Melville celebrated men who were intensely loyal to each other, defiant of authority, and resolutely close-lipped. The writer-director wasn’t just another cafe-loitering mobster wannabe, however: He was himself a veteran of an underworld organization, the French Resistance, which inspired his most moving film. Completed in 1969, four years before its director’s death, Army of Shadows is stark, vivid, and stunningly unsentimental. The film opens with a shot of the Arc de Triomphe as a military parade marches by; slowly, it becomes clear that the soldiers’ uniforms are German. The story begins in October 1942, with a suspected Gaullist sympathizer’s arrival at a French-run prison camp. Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) plans an escape with a communist barracksmate, only to suddenly be taken to a palatial German headquarters. Gerbier successfully flees, but the commie is never encountered again, thus establishing the movie’s disposition: This is a tale of random events, fleeting connections, and luck both good and bad. There’s no place for classical unities—or for that matter, for romanticized notions of loyalty, defiance, and close-lippedness—when every contact could be a traitor and every meeting could be the one that blows your cover. Melville holds secrets nearly as closely as do his protagonists (played by such actors as Simone Signoret, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and Paul Meurisse), resulting not in a traditional drama but in a series of anecdotes that gradually accumulate a devastating power. Adapted after years of trying from Joseph Kessel’s 1943 novel, Army of Shadows has made the repertory rounds, but it was never commercially released in the United States before restoration specialist Rialto Pictures premiered this newly restored version last month. It’s no surprise that American distributors were leery. Plunging the viewer into isolation, paranoia, and hopelessness, the movie recounts a true mission impossible. At the end, just before returning to that landmark arch, Melville tallies the fates of his four surviving characters—the news is grim but really surprising. The film’s bleakness suggests that, despite history’s teaching us otherwise, German control of France was impregnable. Resistance is something Melville’s characters do not because it seriously challenges their occupiers but simply because it’s their nature. —Mark Jenkins