With news today that cinemas are set to reopen sometime in July, this potentially marks the beginning of the end for my journey into the wonderful world of VOD! Before I can finally get back into the swing of a proper cinematic experience, there are still a few weeks worth of random releases to get through. Next up in the spotlight is Jonathan Jakubowicz’s Resistance.
The film tells the story of Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg), an aspiring actor who, as part of the French Jewish Resistance, participated in the saving and transportation of hundreds of Jewish children during World War II before going on to become the world famous mime artist, Marcel Marceau. Using a mixture of real life figures and fictional characters, the narrative takes the familiar shape of a triumph against adversity tale with all of the expected obstacles and emotional highs and lows.
It’s always tricky to try to objectively examine a film that tells a story like this, as criticising it always feels like an extended disregarding of the subject matter. Having said that, however, the truth of the matter is the Resistance is a well intentioned historical drama that just isn’t particularly good. There is no sane person in the world that wouldn’t find such a story of courage and bravery inspiring, but there is difference between having reverence for the history and not being entirely satisfied by the way it has been presented to you.
There is something about the fluidity of the narrative that feels disjointed and distracting, with a particularly annoying habit of corner cutting with on screen text to explain what is happening/about to happen. I would prefer that the story showed me the progression of the narrative rather than having to insert literal directions onto the screen, it shows us that the filmmakers haven’t found a suitable way to do so which is disappointing.
For a story that spans across different years and different countries, Resistance actually feels rather ‘small scale’ which is never something you want to experience in what should be an epic tale. The world created feels quite confined with no real differentiation from country to country, granted there is a theme of similarity in the continent wide Nazi rule, but someone not paying attention to the narrative would be forgiven for assuming that the entire film takes place in a single location.
There is, of course, the inevitable swell of emotion and poignancy that comes with any kind of plot surrounding heroism and Nazi resisting in the 1940s, but don’t let that natural human response fool you into thinking that you are watching something great. Resistance is perfectly serviceable as both a war drama and an introduction to the interesting figure of Marcel Marceau, but it really isn’t anything special.
Admittedly, one of the most enjoyable elements of the film is the awkwardly charismatic performance of Jesse Eisenberg in the lead role, and even that is not perfect. As Marcel, Eisenberg works through a serviceable ‘European’ accent to come across as a believable version of the young man, most comfortable when entertaining the children with the beginnings of his now legendary mime act. There is a lot of introverted likability on display right from the start, and the viewer has no trouble in rooting for him instantly.
Eisenberg is supported most notably by Clémence Poésy as Emma, a fellow Resistance member and love interest, and thankfully Poésy has much more to do in the film than simply be a figure in Marcel’s own development. She gives an impressive performance along with others including Felix Moati, Vica Kerekes, Geza Rohrig and Bella Ramsey. There is even a cameo from Ed Harris as George S. Patton, kind of wild!
Matthias Schweighöfer is menacingly well, Aryan, as Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie. I would say that the performance and overall presentation of the character verges on comic book villain caricature, but in real life the guy was nicknamed the ‘Butcher of Lyon’ so who knows, maybe he was the Ramsay Bolton type of motherfucker that is portrayed on screen!
Overall, Resistance is a proficiently put together war drama/early biopic that doesn’t commit any egregious errors, it just feels like there is a much better film to be made about this early and amazing period of Marcel Marceau’s life. Jesse Eisenberg is enjoyable in the picture, but that performance alone isn’t quite enough to make this anything other than ‘meh’. Inspiring subject matter, uninspiring filmmaking.