If there was a time when humanity’s courage was truly tested then it was between the years 1939 – 1945 when World War II raged, and when the most awful possibilities of man’s inhumanity to each was visited upon so many. But in that dark hour, light still shone through and one man who exemplified that more than anyone else was Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg), a young Jewish Frenchmen who would become one of the most celebrated mimes of all time and who with a deeply humanist desire fought to save as many lives as possible. Resistance is his story, and this dramatic WWII epic is deeply affecting.
Aspiring mime artist Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg) joins the French Resistance to save the lives of thousands of children orphaned at the hands of the Nazis.
While we’re used to the gung-ho, patriotic WWII films with brave G.I.’s charging headfirst into the breach, Resistance is not that movie. Instead, director, Jonathan Jakubowicz takes a life-affirming approach to the story, which champions humanist themes and a desire to good. Jakubowicz takes us to war-torn France, circa 1939 and leads us into the occupation of it by the Nazi’s and Gestapo thugs who decide to cleanse its streets of anyone who they deem to be sub-human. Here Jakubowicz introduces us to the comical Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg) and places his audience firmly in the dangers of Lyon, France circa 1941, and there’s plenty to keep audiences on edge here. This look at the French Resistance is also something that is normally lacking in much of contemporary Western cinema, and this look at a different kind of hero is very refreshing.
Taking on the lead role of Marcel Marceau is Jesse Eisenberg, an actor of stunning range and vitality and the character of Marceau is a perfect fit for him to play. Introduced as a lovable goofball who dreams of being a theatre extraordinaire, Marcel is a rather shallow and completely self-absorbed individual who thinks of nothing but himself, until a busload of Jewish orphans arrives on his doorstep and he suddenly realises that the world is far bigger and more complex than ever before. Seeing the rising Nazi threat and the suffering that brings, he’s compelled to do something and that leads him to join the French Resistance and battle and Nazi’s, saving as many lives as he can in the process.
The role of Marceau plays to Eisenberg’s strengths as an actor but also challenges him in the same instance. While Eisenberg has made a career out of playing intellectual types, with an affinity for being ‘the smartest man in the room’, here the realities of WWII and the blood, death and horrors that come with it are not lost on his performance. When he sees danger near, Eisenberg’s Marceau runs towards it, looking the tiger in the eye and jabbing out as quickly as possible. But while he starts with a desire to cause as much chaos to the Nazi machine as possible, he soon comes to turn with the fact that his ability to prolong and celebrate life is what counts and it is this that leads him to save the lives of hundreds of Jewish orphans as the story progresses. The act of courage comes in many forms, and Eisenberg celebrates the unique heroism that only someone like Marcel Marceau could deliver throughout this conflict.
Facing off against Marcel is the psychopathic Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie and he’s played in a completely monstrous turn by Matthias Schweighöfer. Schweighöfer is terrifyingly convincing as Barbie, and his presence as the man who infamous bore the name, the ‘Butcher of Lyon’, is sure to send shivers down your spine. In Resistance, Schweighöfer gives Barbie a naturalness to the disturbing acts that he commits to root out the Resistance and any Jews that they may be hiding. Killing or mutilating another human has little or no effect on him, and there’s a sick sense of glee and enjoyment that he partakes in his work. One of the film’s most shocking scenes involves Barbie’s interrogation of Clémence Poésy’s Emma, Marcel’s love interest and this scene certainly puts the fear into the audience. Out of respect to history, Jakubowicz’s portrayal of Barbie is in keeping with the terror that he inflicted, and this only amps up the necessity for Marcel to succeed in his mission.
One thing that is incredibly appealing to audiences with Resistance is how director Jonathan Jakubowicz frames his story through the themes of the humanist philosophy. While Resistance is a serious film of life and death, it is the film’s protagonist, Marcel Marceau’s dedication to preserving life, and all things that make it wonderful which is what sets it apart. Through tremendous hardships, and a story that is an absolute ‘against all odds’ drama, Jakubowicz puts his focus towards how the action of human emotion can be the ultimate saving grace, and its use in both Resistance’s narrative and the actions of Marcel is sure to leave an impression on audiences.
Resistance is a film of absolute importance in the current age in which we live, and it’s the message of holding onto your humanity against all odds, and approaching adversity with a smile, and still being able to conquer it while retaining one’s dignity. It’ a powerful story that needs to be told. A story of fact and truth where good did conquer evil and audiences will be thoroughly moved because of it.