Synopsis – The story of a group of Jewish Boy Scouts who worked with the French Resistance to save the lives of ten thousand orphans during World War II.
My Take – It is a matter of face that despite an n of releases, filmmakers around the world keep turning back to mine every little tale from World War II, a horrifying period which tarnished and affected so many generations, to churn out an effective true story, after all who doesn’t like to witness triumph in the face of perilous evil!
In this latest addition, writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz‘s brings us the story of Marcel Mangel, whom history buffs will know as Marcel Marceau, the most famous and influential mime of the 20th century, who gained wide spread acclaim and fame through his various TV appearances and life acts. However, what many don’t know is that Marceau also took a heroic stance in the French Resistance during World War II, whose efforts lead to the survival of thousands of Jewish orphan children.
With a tale so heroic and emotional, the film clearly aimed to work as a compelling small-scale indie biopic, unfortunately, the effort is so uninteresting and unoriginal that it struggles to stand apart in the already well-crowded niche of various WW2 dramas.
While film has everything to tell an engaging drama, especially considering that dozens of children as part of the cast and emotions are running high for both the French and Jewish people at the core of the story. But by having this story revolve around Marcel Marceau, who made a good living from creating emotions from wordless performances, it seems strange that so little of this film is engaging as an emotional exercise.
The story follows Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg), a young Jewish actor belonging to a family of multi-generational local butchers, who is so self-obsessed with his own burgeoning career circa 1940 that he doesn’t have much interest in the impending invasion by Nazi German troops into France during World War II. He’s more focused on his impersonations of Charlie Chaplin in burlesque clubs, working on building scenery for his shows, and occasionally helping his father (Karl Markovics) at the butcher shop.
He even finds the proposal from his cousin, Georges Loinger (Géza Röhrig), a member of the French Jewish Resistance, to look after and entertain recently orphaned Jewish children, an annoyance, and agrees only so he can spend time and impress Emma (Clémence Poésy), a woman he immensely likes, who instead chides him like his older brother, Alain (Félix Moati), that he never really cares about anyone but himself.
But as it turns out, Marcel ends up forging a strong connection with the children, especially Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey), and when Strasbourg is evacuated, and all its citizens sent to the south of the country ahead of the Nazi invasion, he becomes determined to do something meaningful to change the situation.
The remainder of the film follows his dramatic initiation into the Resistance, its attempts to make things difficult for occupying forces headed by the notorious Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), and Marcel’s eventual decision that he can better serve his people by smuggling the children out of France through the Alps, across the border into Switzerland.
The true story here is no doubt compelling, but the screenplay just never really catches fire as it feels wholly familiar and rote. There’s the reluctant hero, the sadistic bad guy, and even a strained love story thrown in for good measure, which all lead to a conclusion that feels more or less preordained from the jump. The characters are all so uniform that nothing about the film feels organic or surprising, except for the abrupt, brutal violence squeezed between the whimsical mime scenes played for laughs.
We are told that Marcel Marceau was responsible for the rescue of hundreds of children. Physically, this doesn’t seem to be the case; technically it may be true if most of those children escaped because of the passports he forged. We’ll never know, as all the lines are blurry.
The tale of his heroism is book ended by an opening introduction and closing explanation by General George S. Patton (Ed Harris) who used Marceau as a liaison. This, no doubt, was used to underscore bona fides that the film fails to fill in.
Though director Jakubowicz, along with cinematographer M.I. Litten-Menz, finds a few signature shots, whether it’s the urgency of an action sequence or a well-lit night mood on a scene, or an energetic yet sad chase through the French Alps, the takeaway power just isn’t there. But much of the film seems arbitrary, like a biopic touching all the bases of a war flick.
There are also a few side plots about the lost dreams of Marcel’s father and the budding romance between a couple of the resistance members that are indeed effective, but somewhat unnecessary to the overall thrust of the narrative, and pad out a 120-minute film that could have just as easily been 30 minutes shorter.
Thankfully, a whole lot is redeemed by a terrific cast that seems to pour their hearts and souls into authentic and passionate performances. Though he doesn’t look much like the historical Marceau, Jesse Eisenberg acquits himself well in the role, doing well enough with the accent to outweigh the bad or overwrought. Clémence Poésy is completely convincing in a role that takes her to the outer limits of emotion. But then, it’s a bit easier to believe she’s terrified when we’re terrified, too, thanks to the performance of Matthias Schweighofer, who is chilling as Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon.
In supporting roles, Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul), Bella Ramsey, Karl Markovics, Félix Moati, Vica Kerekes and Alicia von Rittberg are also effective. Ed Harris and Edgar Ramirez appear in glorified cameos who add nothing to the story. On the whole, ‘Resistance’ is an underwhelming war drama which despite a compelling story fails to engage.
Directed – Jonathan Jakubowicz
Rated – R
Run Time – 120 minutes