When you think of mime, you naturally think of Marcel Marceau. But you probably don’t know how he saved a group of Jewish orphans from the Nazis during World War II. Resistance tells the story of his joining the French resistance and helping to sneak them across the border into the safety of Switzerland. Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Cafe Society) plays Marceau, the son of a Kosher butcher in Strasbourg, France, who’s more interested in becoming the next Charlie Chaplin than being a hero. But his cousin is a commander in a secretive Jewish relief group and convinces him to help them smuggle Jewish children from occupied France to neutral countries. It’s an uplifting story, though not a great film.
Marceau is a natural at taking the kids’ minds off their plight with his clowning/mime skills, but he’s also a smart guy, figuring out how to fool the Nazis by posing as a Boy Scout leader during their escape and forging documents that keep them safe. His main foe is Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer, Valkyrie) who was known as “The Butcher of Lyon.” Barbie delights in (and the director delights in showing) sadistic brutality, torture, and murder, and he’s always right around the corner, waiting to capture Marceau and his band of resisters. He does catch and torture Marceau’s love interest, Emma (Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter series), though Marceau is able to rescue her from his clutches. And of course, ultimately the good guys win.
The film is strangely bookended with General George Patton (Ed Harris) on a stage singing Marceau’s praises in front of a huge audience of soldiers. And the final scene is Marceau (Eisenberg) performing for the appreciative crowd. The biggest problem with the film is that the badly miscast Eisenberg is no Marceau and his mime is pretty lame. I’d have rather seen archival footage of the real man. Marceau is really the only mime I can say I ever liked and this film makes me even more of a fan, even though script-wise it’s pretty cliche-ridden. It’s another of those films where the villain is the most interesting character and some scenes definitely came close to feeling like Nazi porn. I can’t really recommend this film to anyone except perhaps mime historians who want to learn the little bit they can about their most famous brother.
The film is streaming now on various services.