The Nazis murdered millions of children during their ethnic cleansing campaign. Resistance is the true story of legendary French mime, Marcel Marceau; and his role in rescuing thousands of Jewish orphans in World War II. His remarkable talents were honed through persecution and compassion. In a time of unimaginable despair, Marceau used artistry to alleviate suffering and foil cruel oppressors. Resistance reminds us of humor’s power to heal. It is a gripping, heartbreaking remembrance of a dark historical chapter.
Resistance begins in Germany on November 9th 1938, Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Young Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey) watches in horror as her parents are murdered. In Strasbourg, France, Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg) entertains the crowd at the local cabaret with his Charlie Chaplin impersonations. His father (Karl Markovics), a local butcher, bemoans his son’s “clownish” behavior. His brother, Alain (Félix Moati), considers Marcel’s art to be selfish and juvenile.
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Marcel helps his beautiful neighbor, Emma (Clémence Poésy), and her sister, Milla (Vica Kerekes), transport a group of orphaned children to refuge. They have been terrorized. He’s particularly taken by the haunted Elsbeth. Marcel uses his mime skills to make the children laugh. Their sanctuary is short lived. Hitler’s swift invasion of France catches the Jewish community by surprise. Marcel and Emma’s families flee with the children to Lyon in the south. They join the French Resistance to fight the Nazi invaders. But are completely unprepared for the savagery of Gestapo Lieutenant Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer).
Resistance hits with an emotional punch. You are filled with dread and disgust as the loathsome Nazis kill indiscriminately. Klaus Barbie’s methods earned him the moniker, “Butcher of Lyon.” A merciless enemy stalks every street and corner. The lives of the children and their protectors are a constant, worrisome thread. The film establishes a palpable tension to draw the audience into dire situations. Venezuelan director Jonathan Jakubowicz (Secuestro Express, Hands of Stone) keeps the stakes high.
Jesse Eisenberg is nearly unrecognizable as Marcel Marceau. He takes a dramatic leap in acting range with this role. Eisenberg has had a successful career playing off-kilter, nerdish characters. Portraying the world’s most famous mime in a war drama is truly next level. He looks effortless. Resistance has Eisenberg miming under various degrees of duress. He brings laughter to children, thwarts Nazis, and offers compassion when rage seems like the only answer. It’s a precise physical performance that reminded me of Roberto Benigni in the classic Life is Beautiful.
Marcel Marceau saw the decimation of his people on a historic scale. He understood the importance of the next generation. That saving their lives was more important than killing others. Marceau achieved greatness long before fame and fortune. Resistance is a fitting film for the coronavirus pandemic. It reminds us that community, perseverance, and laughter are integral to surviving a deadly adversary. Resistance is a production of Pantaleon Films and Vertical Media. It will be available on demand from IFC Films on March 27th.
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.