PLOT: The true story of Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg), the famous French mime who was a member of the Resistance during the Second World War.
REVIEW: I must admit that my knowledge of Marcel Marceau is limited. I know that’s he’s a legendary figure worldwide, but quite honestly – my only exposure to his work was through his cameo in Mel Brooks’s SILENT MOVIE, where the joke was that he spoke the film’s only line of dialogue (one word – in French – “non”) despite being the world’s most celebrated mime. I knew nothing about his early days in the French Resistance which ended with him being awarded the Legion of Honor and National Order of Merit. It’s a great, untold story that gets the prestige film treatment with RESISTANCE, even if current circumstances will likely prevent the film from ever getting the mainstream cinema release it deserves.
At first glance the very American Jesse Eisenberg seems oddly cast as Marceau, but apparently, they have a lot more in common than you’d think. For one thing, Eisenberg’s mother was a professional clown and they have the same Jewish/Polish background. It’s off-putting at first to hear him affect a French accent, but Eisenberg’s physicality is a perfect match for the role, with him able to convincingly play both a mime and clown, while also evoking the fact that Marceau (who his brother says “has the muscles of a ghost”) was a highly unlikely hero.
The movie picks up in pretty classic Hollywood fashion, with him plying his trade in burlesque houses, to the disapproval of his traditional Jewish father (THE COUNTERFEITER’S Karl Markovics), seemingly only joining a crew of Jewish aid workers helping German-Jewish refugee children to impress the beautiful girl he pines over (Clemence Poesy), only to be won over by the fact that they love his schtick so much. One young girl in particular (played by Bella Ramsey – aka Lyanna Mormont from “Game of Thrones”) becomes a soft spot for Eisenberg once the Germans invade France, with most of the movie depicting the ways the ingenious Marceau protected the children from Nazis, in particular, the real-life Klaus Barbie, played with psychopathic relish by Matthias Schweighofer).
To be sure, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s film is much more in the vein of mainstream WW2 movies like LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL than something like SON OF SAUL (whose lead – Geza Rohrig co-stars) or COME AND SEE. Still, it can’t be denied that it tells an impressive story of heroism and resilience. There aren’t many Holocaust movies that I’d say fall into the “feel good” category, but this one tells an ultimately life-affirming tale, even if there are some pretty brutal scenes, such as one of the heroes being flayed alive (offscreen) and the fact that if you go down the Wikipedia rabbit hole after the end credits, you’ll see that the real-life Klaus Barbie only ever paid for his crimes as a very old man, and spent most of his years creating chaos in places like Bolivia.
RESISTANCE has the look of a fairly well-budgeted film, and even boasts two pretty big stars in cameos – Edgar Ramirez as Ramsay’s father and Ed Harris as General Patton. It’s too bad then that a theatrical run it out of the question as it could have been a solid earner for IFC Films, but on VOD it makes for a solid rental and a good reminder that even if things seem grim at the moment – well – they could be a whole lot worse.