Those famous aren’t always known for their greatest achievements.
Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg), upon the furtherance of Nazi aggression, joins the French Resistance years before his later notoriety as a performer. Charming children through mimicry and mime, his and others’ efforts soon turn to ensuring their wards’ safe escape from the German and Vichy forces.
This genre of narrative, for which there remains no end of true, fictionalised or semi-fictionalised retellings to capture, remains a reliable staple of any given film year for good reason; they’re compelling, relevant and enduringly important to so many and especially those of particular backgrounds, this author no less.
Crucially, Resistance exists primarily within the Shoah (Holocaust) genre of film where there is a reliably lesser emphasis on fictionalisation, though this feature does venture more heavily into the World War 2-centric, action-thriller driven style of storytelling in its second and third acts. Edward Zwick’s Defiance too addresses the significant distinction and is analogous in its balance.
Those sections that do emulate thrillers resplendent throughout the sixties and seventies similarly fall back on very conventional structures with the narrative here bookended by needless flash-forwards. Fixating passingly on the essential dynamics of any given strategy which fall by the wayside in of all things a war movie about the French Resistance, much greater focus is granted to the in fairness very strong dynamics between the main players.
Eisenberg delivers another consistently good performance, subverting his traditional lithely detached, outwardly wrought persona typically deployed for comedic ends in the service of more darkly dramatic content. Matthias Schweighofer excels as Barbie; outlining his character as overtly charming while maniacally-motivated in a searing turn emblematic of the most extreme contradictions and true to life tendencies of the Nazi leadership with which film rarely tackles; Inglourious Basterds too doing so to great effect.
Clemence Poesy navigates the more greatly difficult material with aplomb while Game of Thrones’ Bella Ramsey, well-depicting the most developed character among the various orphans featured, shows just how far her dramatic potential reaches beyond Westeros within several sequences including a particularly tense stand-off with senior Nazi officials.
Given the action-driven subject matter the film is absent a necessarily faster pace ill-achieved in light of its two hour length. Resistance, in addition to covering two genres, is expansive for covering many tangents throughout; emphasising a familiar if singular guerrilla-driven story in its three final quarters. Less minutes are allotted to two advents this film is most memorable for and could just as well have permitted much greater run times.
The idea of performance art, mockery or pantomime as catharsis for dealing with trauma is not unique to this movie, being evident throughout for instance the works of Mel Brooks, various satires of the Nazis including Charlie Chaplin’s contributions (to which Resistance acknowledges a debt) and moreover Marceau’s oeuvre. Covered at the beginning, while the film too later highlights Marceau’s unique stylings his especial talents largely give way to a much greater focus for very significant lengths on more conventionally-driven episodes.
The conception of resistance through art or art as resistance relayed to some extent through Eisenberg’s physical performance and the childrens’ reactions, it is otherwise teased out via discussion which like much of the local, national and international ramifications of the film’s events are laboured by some expository dialogue as distinct from the more naturalistic interplay accompanying the art-centric scenes.
Moreover, Marceau, and miming more generally, connote the approach that great emotion and understanding can be better pursued through movement or action, rather than words. The idea that pure physical expression absent vocal (or as is the case here musical) articulation can better convey understandings of loss, suffering or indeed kinship, as captured by a beautiful early scene between Eisenberg and Poesy, in the context of the Shoah genre of cinema is notably powerful and underexplored.
Further and significantly so, Resistance addresses, through Marceau’s wordless conveyances, as many implicitly or explicitly accept, that the nature of trauma and dimensions thereof suffered due to this era cannot necessarily be verbally articulated but may be better imparted through more fundamental gestures of universal recognition as encapsulated by Marceau’s so accessible and translatable art. Something so worth exploring, it is covered movingly, if sparingly.
Resistance has its Australian premiere online as part of Classic, Lido, Cameo and Ritz’s ‘At Home’ streaming platform which in collaboration with the Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF) are hosting a live online Q&A with Jesse Eisenberg at 9:30PM on June 10