Filmmakers love an underdog story and when it’s combined with the Holocaust, it can seem like a winning box office combination. However, for RESISTANCE, the pandemic had other ideas and the film never made it to most cinemas, instead, by and large, going straight to the streaming services where it has languished. Not surprisingly, a few Jewish film festivals around the world have picked it up but with so many other options out there, it is worth your time?
RESISTANCE tells the little-known story of French national treasure Marcel Marceau’s efforts during the war to rescue Jewish children. Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg, the ZOMBIELAND movies, JUSTICE LEAGUE; the NOW YOU SEE ME movies; CAFÉ SOCIETY; THE END OF THE TOUR; THE SOCIAL NETWORK), was born Marcel Mangel, the son of kosher butcher Charles Mangel (Karl Markovics, THE COUNTERFEITERS), in Strasbourg, France. Like that other famous Jewish clown, Herschel Krustofsky, Marcel’s father thinks that going into the arts is a bad career choice for his 16-year-old son. Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, Marcel gets roped into working with some friends and family members who have paid bribes to the Nazis to bring a group of German Jewish orphans to France. These people include his crush Emma (Clémence Poésy, TENET; the HARRY POTTER franchise; 127 HOURS; IN BRUGES), her sister Mila (Vica Kerekes), his brother Alain (Félix Moati, soon to be seen in THE FRENCH DISPATCH) and his cousin Georges Loinger (Géza Röhrig, SON OF SAUL). When the Nazis invade France 18 months later, Marcel, his family and friends, and the kids they have rescued all move to the temporary safety of Limoges in Vichy. It is there that Marcel makes the decision to join the French Resistance but rather than hoping to kill a few Nazis, he wants to ensure the safety of these children by hiking with them over the French Alps to neutral Switzerland. Hot on their heels, though, is the ruthless Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer, KURSK), aka “the Butcher of Lyon”.
Leaving aside the notion of 36-year-old Eisenberg (when the film was made) playing a teenager for half a second, one has to wonder what was going through Venezuelan writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s head when he cast Eisenberg for the lead. Sure, the actor is a bankable name but he’s also one-note whose pursed lips and staccato delivery comes through in every role he takes on. Maybe Marceau was twitchy too, but he certainly wasn’t known for that. He was known for his craft and in the few scenes where we get to see Eisenberg mime, it’s far from impressive. Unfortunately, both Marceau the Mime and the underlying message of the power of silence both get lost in this rather formulaic tale only to reappear at a critical time when Marcel takes a swig of some lamp oil, grabs someone’s lighter and, well, you can guess the rest. The good news is that Eisenberg’s European co-stars all put in credible performances but if you’ve ever seen a Holocaust movie before, you know where RESISTANCE is going to go after the first five minutes. Speaking of those first five minutes, Jakubowicz strangely decides to bookend his story with a speech from US General George S. Patton (an underwhelming Ed Harris, MOTHER!; THE TRUMAN SHOW; APOLLO 13; TV’s WESTWORLD), introducing his new liaison officer to the troops. While this detail is true, it’s barely relevant here.
RESISTANCE is currently available on a number of platforms depending on where you live including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and Google Movies, the last of which curiously lists the film as a comedy. It’s not. While flawed for sure, at least Jakubowicz’s heart is in the right place, and for audiences that are unfamiliar with the Holocaust, RESISTANCE may be a safe introduction to the subject. One has to hope, though, that there are better story treatments out there that someone will turn into film that is worthy of Marceau’s heroism and selflessness.
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