Courtesy of IFC Films
Between “Hunters,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “The Song of Names” and now “Resistance” World War II, Jewish cultures and heritage have been at the forefront for moviegoers. Not to say some films or television series are better than others, but the message about ridding the world of anti-semitism and hate is potent in all the examples listed above, and “Resistance” offers an intriguing twist by working as a semi-biopic about the most famous Mime of all time Marcel Marceau.
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz (“Hands of Stone”) “Resistance” is rooted in old-fashion narrative mechanics: there’s daring escapes, sabotage, a charismatic hero, one sadistic villian, and details a gripping fight against Nazi-occupied France. The hero is the aforementioned Marcau (played with gusto by a trying Jesse Eisenberg), who is the son of a Jewish butcher living in Strasbourg, France and spends his nights performing Chaplin sendups for laughs at a nearby cabaret.
The tone can seem conflicting at first, especially after the opening scene shows a young Jewish girl in Munich, watching her family get slaughtered by the Third Reich, but these earlier sequences help set the mood later for Marcau’s clowning around so to speak. Especially as his call to arms steam with the arrival of a truckload of Jewish orphans and his decision to use his stand-up routine to entertain the youngsters. Thankfully, the film doesn’t detour into satirical territory with these brief interludes as Jakubowicz never lets us forget who the real villains are and Eisenberg slowly starts to grow on you as the film trots along.
As much as “Resistance” wants to keep the focus on Marceau (who during the time this film takes place was actually 15 years old, much younger than Eisenberg) once the war breaks out, the filmmakers rightfully play into that territory. France becomes occupied and soon thereafter all Jews have a bounty on their heads, forcing the resistance - made up of activists Emma (Clemence Poesy) who Marceau has a fondness for and her sister Mila (Vica Kerekes) among others - to make a choice about smuggling the orphans to safety. Not helping matters is the looming presence of Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer), the kind of psychopath who prefers to execute people in the drained pool of his headquarters whilst playing piano. Though Schweighofer gives Barbie a sadist flavor and his bubbly performance almost falls into absurdity, it does serve as a stark reminder of what Marceau and company were fighting against.
From there, Jakubowicz is allowed to showcase his full range as a filmmaker and though “Resistance” doesn’t help the audience to understand the full scope and range of Marceau’s talents, the harrowing and remarkable true story elements are almost too good to resist. Of course, Eisenberg falls flat more than he soars, which had me questioning several odd character choices (the accent he’s sporting is choppy at best). But one can admire the physicality he brings to the role, even if the “Zombieland” star doesn’t quite scream leading man status, he’s got some resolve.
The final twenty minutes of “Resistance” are gripping: complete with quick getaways, foot chases, and one tense showdown after the other (more specifically, a scene involving a train filled with orphans trying to make a break for Switzerland). Obviously, these techniques have been utilized frequently in other films of the genre, but it’s still an effective troupe that if done correctly can make the hairs on your back prick up. And It’s in those moments when “Resistance” thinks outside the box and complements the heroic lengths these folks went to save hundreds of lives which, despite the narrative shortcomings, is worth the big screen treatment.
“Resistance” will be available to rent from numerous video on demand formats starting Friday March 27th.