RESISTANCE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Clemence Poesy, Matthias Schweighofer, Felix Moati, Edgar Ramirez, Geza Rohrig, Bella Ramsey, Karl Markovics, Vika Kerekes.

Jesse Eisenberg in Resistance (2020)

Based on an incredible but little known true story Resistance is yet another Holocaust themed drama exploring the impact of war upon innocent children, but it is not quite in the same league as films like the Oscar winning Life Is Beautiful or The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.

The late Marcel Marceau is an internationally recognised mime artist, whose performances have entranced audiences of all ages around the world. Ironically, he was the only person to utter any dialogue in Mel Brooks’ classic 1976 Hollywood parody Silent Movie. What is less well known about Marceau is his work with the French resistance movement during the Nazi occupation of France during WWII. In pursuing their policy of racial purity, the Nazis killed over 1.5 million children, the majority of which were Jewish. Before he became famous Marceau worked with the resistance movement to save hundreds of orphaned Jewish children from the tyranny of the Nazis, by helping to smuggle them out of occupied France and across the Alps into neutral Switzerland.

When we first meet the young Marcel (played here by Jesse Eisenberg, from The Social Network, etc) who lives with his family in the French town of Strasbourg. He works in the butcher shop owned by his father, but he has aspirations of becoming an actor. At night the struggling artist performs in local cabarets, doing impersonations of silent movie star Charlie Chaplin, much to the disapproval of his father. But he also joins forces with his brother Alain (Felix Moati, from Sink Or Swim, etc), his cousin Georges (Geza Rohrig, the searing and powerful Holocaust drama Son Of Saul, etc) and girlfriend Emma (Clemence Poesy, from In Bruges, etc) in helping to look after dozens of orphaned children who have been placed in their care. He uses his skills as a mime to amuse the children and calm their fears and also teaches them how to evade detection by using physical skills and silence. He forms an especially strong bond with the traumatised Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey, from Game Of Thrones, etc).

When the Nazis invade France, the whole village is relocated to the town of Limoges in the south of France. There the teenaged Marcel becomes more involved in the resistance movement, where his ability to forge passports proves an asset.   

Eventually the team risk taking a group of orphans across France in a train to help them escape into Switzerland, posing as a scout troop. It was a risky venture, especially when the notorious “Butcher of Lyon”, the brutal Nazi Klaus Barbie (played with menace by German actor Matthias Schweighofer) was on their trail. The sadistic Barbie would torture and execute partisans in his ruthless efforts to destroy the resistance movement in the south of France.

Resistance is the third feature film from Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz (Hands Of Stone, etc), and is a worthy, well made and inspiring tale of an unlikely hero who brings hope in dark and dangerous times. This is not a straight biopic though and he obviously takes some liberties with the story for dramatic effect. While certainly worthy and full of hope, the film also tends to be a bit too sentimental at times.   

Through the film Jakubowicz explores themes of bravery, courage, and the horrors of war, and while he largely tends to downplay the violence there are still moments of violence that bring shock value to the drama. A horrific and confronting opening sequence shows the terrible impact of the Nazi’s rise to power and their policy of racial purity and persecuting Jewish families. There is a climactic confrontation between Barbie and Marcel on the train that further heightens the tension, and which is superbly handled by Jakubowicz.

There are a few problems with the film though, including some uneven pacing and cliched elements that will seem familiar to audiences who have seen any number of Holocaust dramas. The drama is bookended by a clumsy device in which General Patton (a cameo from Ed Harris) tells the tale of Marceau’s courage and introduces him to US troops for his first public performance, fittingly in the same arena in Nuremburg where the Nazis held their massive rallies.  Apparently Marceau was a liaison officer for Patton at the end of the war. But the biggest problem is that Eisenberg is too old to convincingly play the teenaged Marcel, and he doesn’t physically resemble the character. However, he does effectively recreate some of Marceau’s mime movements and his signature look at the end of the film. But while he tries hard, his faux French accent slips at times.

The standout performance here comes from German actor Schweighofer (Valkyrie, etc) who brings a real sense of menace to his role and is genuinely terrifying as Barbie.

Period detail lends authenticity to the film, which has been atmospherically shot by Jakubowicz’s regular cinematographer M I Littin-Menz (who also shot Hands Of Stone, etc). Littin-Menz suffuses the material with a real sense of uneasiness and menace. A lot of the action takes place at night, which lends a further sense of danger to the proceedings.

★★★☆

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