Movie Review: 'Resistance' Starring Jesse Eisenberg
You may want to stop mocking Mimes after you hear the real story behind Marcel Marceau.
Well, I won’t be cracking wise about mimes again any time soon. The new World War 2 movie, Resistance, tells an astonishing true story about the man who remains the most famous mime in the world, even more than a decade after his passing, Marcel Marceau. Portrayed by a winsome Jesse Eisenberg, we find Marcel Marceau a romantic hero who risked his life to save tens of thousands of children from the Nazis. It’s a story anyone who has ever made fun of mimes has likely never heard before.
Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel in the north of France. He was a performer from his earliest days and when he discovered silent movies and the world of Charlie Chaplin, he knew what his life’s calling was. This was despite the disapproval of his father who urged him toward the family butcher business. Marcel is, as we meet him, a rather callow and self-involved young man. His only interest appears to be art, specifically his own.
However, interest in a beautiful activist named Emma (Clemence Poesy), draws him, in 1938, to join a group of scouts who have paid a hefty ransom to rescue more than 100 Jewish orphans from Nazi Germany. Marcel will join Emma and his brother Sigmund (Edgar Ramirez) in caring for the children while preparing them for what is coming, the German invasion of France. Eventually, as the German’s overtake the country, the children are scattered and hidden while Marcel, Emma and Sigmund join the French resistance in Lyon, France.
Once reunited with a group of the children they had cared for, the group makes the daring decision to escape Lyon and travel to Switzerland through the Alps. It’s a daring journey and it won’t be the last for Marcel who goes on to be responsible for helping to rescue thousands of children who became targets under the awful Klaus Barbi (Matthias Schweighofer) who had no compunction about killing children. Barbi was the tip of Hitler’s sword against the French resistance in the south of France and a convenient villain for Resistance.
So yeah, Marcel Marceau, the face of the much maligned profession of Mime, was a legit badass hero. In the movie we see Marcel actually use his talent for circus theatrics when he kills a Nazi guard by spitting fire at him. Marcel Marceau was a liberator, a hero and a Mime. I keep bringing this up because I have only ever seen Mimes be mercilessly mocked throughout our popular culture. To know that Marceau was a remarkable hero makes me feel guilty for ever having mocked his art form.
One might find themselves suspicious of the often over-wrought theatricality of Jesse Eisenberg portraying a famous Mime. Thankfully, Eisenberg proves perfectly cast as Marceau. In Resistance, Eisenberg’s flourishes, tics and theatrics are perfectly suited to Marceau, a man given to theatrics to deal with the horrors of the world. Eisenberg’s earnestness, so often mocked in other performances, proves to be a winning quality in Resistance.
Resistance is impressively directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz. While I was resistant to the idea of another World War 2 story, I found myself won over by this unique bit of historic fiction. I knew little of what Resistance was about and when Eisenberg is revealed to be Marcel Marceau, a name he gave himself while forging a passport to hide his Jewish heritage, I was floored and became even more engaged and fascinated by the story.
Jakubowicz doesn’t rest on that bit of unique, little known history however as he crafts a number of scenes that boil with tension and suspense. An edge of your seat moment involves a train, a choir and Klaus Barbi and it is fraught in the way that great suspense must be. I was holding my breath throughout this sequence and I knew how it turned out, we know Marcel Marceau obviously wasn’t murdered by Nazis.
Resistance has some rather perfunctory scripting, typical moments that feel forced in order to set up later payoffs, but the story is so good that I was able to overlook the screenplay 101 quality of some scenes. Eisenberg helps immensely delivering a sweet, thoughtful performance of earnest heroism. Seeing Eisenberg perform as Marcel Marceau in the guise we know him in today is jarring and threatens to become cloying in the way movies like Jakob the Liar or Life is Beautiful failed to resist but Eisenberg pulls it off.
I was surprised to be genuinely moved by a Mime performance. I feel as if our culture has trained me for years to dislike and mock Mimes so I am deeply impressed at how Eisenberg makes the Miming in Resistance work. Director Jakobowicz leans into the sincerity and sweetness and relies on his star to overcome our resistance to Mimes. It helps, of course, to know that if we did mock, we would be mocking a legitimate hero but I wish to credit the star and director as well.
Resistance is being released to On-Demand services on March 27th from IFC Films.