The Reel Dad checks out ‘Resistance’ from home
At a time when people need to believe in heroes, the new film “Resistance” tells a little-known story of bravery that focuses on an iconic entertainer.
For more than 60 years, Marcel Marceau warmed the world with the brilliance of his ability to tell stories through pantomime. The joy of his work, however, masked darker chapters of his life that were filled with challenge. “Resistance” tells a broad story - of French efforts to resist the pressure of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s - by focusing on Marceau and his family’s work to save young children. While the film struggles to balance these stories of resistance and performance, it does let us see into the passion for pantomime that gave Marceau his creative drive.
When we first see Marceau - played by Jesse Eisenberg - he is a comedian on a stage in a small town in France trying to entertain with a modest pantomime of Charlie Chaplin. As the French carefully watch German efforts to pressure Poland, Marceau struggles to build a theatrical career against his father’s wishes. At a time when many people are targeted by Germans, Marceau begins to realize the power of his pantomime to connect with children who may be at risk. The changing conditions of war give the performer a sense of purpose as he discovers how the magic of mime can calm frightened children as larger worlds spin out of control.
Just as the film establishes the rhythm of this story, however, writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz decides to leave Marceau and the children to focus on the cruelty of the moment. In a series of harsh sequences, Jakubowicz recreates horrors that still frighten. While these scenes establish a backdrop, they begin to feel generic without the narrative continuity a more consistent focus on Marceau would provide. While the film promises to help us see how resisting the war defined Marceau, as a man and a performer, it fails to connect how performing during the resistance influenced his art. And, while the film offers a hint of the performer Marceau will become, we’re left wanting more about how he gets there.
For Jesse Eisenberg, best remembered for his Oscar-nominated turn in “The Social Network,” the role of Marceau offers a challenge he partially meets. When focusing on pantomime as a way to communicate, Eisenberg is excellent, using his command of physical expression to tell complete stories. But when he speaks, he’s less authentic, struggling with an inconsistent French accent as well as a sense of discomfort with the dialogue he’s expected to deliver. While the actor’s mastery of pantomime is impressive, we’re left wishing the film gave him more opportunity to explore what drives this man to do so much for people.
Ultimately, while “Resistance” may try too hard to impress with its integrity, the film can't help but make us feel better about the world. At a moment when we need to believe in goodness in people, the film reminds us how much people can mean to others.
Content: Medium. The story of a man who wants to perform, and wants to help, struggles to reach beyond the surface to reveal the characters’ intentions.
Entertainment: Medium. While the film is interesting, and Jesse Eisenberg has several effective sequences of pantomime, we’re left wanting to know more about this man’s drive to perform and help others.
Message: Low. While the film tries to make us think about the impact of war, its struggle to balance the stories of resistance and pantomime weakens the impact.
Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to revisit this moment in history can be worthwhile despite the disappointments of this film.
Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. As we look for ways to fill time at home, this film can prompt some interesting conversation.
“Resistance” is rated R for “some violence” and, despite the presence of children in the story, is not a movie for the whole family. The film runs 2 hours. It is available on demand and streaming from home.