“What is the best way to resist?” asks a young Marcel Marceau in the middle of Nazi-occupied France. “It is to survive.” The recently released film Resistance tells the story of how the world’s greatest mime risked his life in the French Resistance in World War II and saved the lives of scores of Jewish children. This taut and haunting biopic has a few paint-by-numbers tropes, but Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Marceau helps the film to rise above them and make for a genuinely moving experience (via Christian Toto, whose own review can be read here):
In many films about World War II and the Holocaust, the certain knowledge of what transpired takes the edge off of the tension. In this case, with Marceau’s back story not nearly as well known, Resistance offers some surprises — not all of them pleasant, and a few deeply disturbing. The film starts in Strasbourg with a callow Marcel obsessed with his art rather than the world around him, one of the occasional paint-by-numbers tropes noted above, and assuming at first that the rescue of more than a hundred Jewish children from Germany to France will suffice. It becomes clear by 1940, with the six-week conquest of France, that it will take much more sacrifice and action to save Jews and French patriots from the Nazis. Marceau has to ask himself and those around him what strategy can work against an all-encompassing evil force like Nazi Germany.
The film gets bookended with a speech by General George S. Patton (Ed Harris) and the story told mainly in retrospect. This seems clunky at the beginning, but it does pay off somewhat at the end. One gets the sense, as does Marcel in the film, that the French Resistance is doing more dramatic work than some of what we see in the first half of the film, but that also pays off too. This is a film that rewards patience, and while occasionally using somewhat well-used tropes, also puts them to somewhat more novel use. The film has its triumphs, but it has a great deal of pain as well; it doesn’t offer payoffs without emotional payment.
Eisenberg shows off his dramatic skills better here than in The Social Network, in this case getting to the raw emotional connection for which playing Mark Zuckerberg didn’t truly allow. However, the performance that truly drives Resistance comes from Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter) as Emma, the woman whom Marcel is wooing. Equally powerful if shorter performances come from Vica Kerekes as Emma’s sister Mila and Bella Ramsey’s debut as the orphaned Elsbeth, who captures Marcel’s heart in a different way. After a horrifying encounter with Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer, also brilliant and disturbing) in Lyons, Poésy’s performance is magnificent and heartbreaking.
It’s not a perfect film, but it is a qualified gem that could easily remain buried in the present coronavirus pandemic. Resistance was likely headed to an arthouse release anyway, but its March 27th release date and its subject matter probably doomed it even more. In that, though, perhaps the equalizing effect of cinema shutdowns will prompt more attention to this film, especially with the somewhat anemic list of new home-theater releases thus far.
Using the Hot Air scale for films already on home theater platforms, Resistance gets a 4:
- 4 – Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD
- 3 – Worth a rental price or pay-per-view
- 2 – Wait for it to come on a TV channel you already get
- 1 – Avoid at all costs
Resistance is rated R for its realistic and sometimes horrifying violence, but the worst of it takes place off-screen. It has one scene with a sexual situation but no nudity. Mature teens should be able to handle the subject matter, especially with proper context provided by the adults, but this is likely too intense for pre-teens and younger.