‘Resistance’ review: by-the-numbers war thriller is an absorbing look at humanism in the face of atrocity

Jesse Eisenberg plays an aspiring Jewish actor who joins the Resistance to help WWII orphans

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    The list of famous mimes is a very short one, but it’s topped by Marcel Marceau. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Marceau performed around the world, delighting audiences by pretending he lived in a world only he could see. Before his fame, however, he was a French resistance fighter in World War II. That little known early life is explored in Resistance.

    As a young man, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Marceau is a devotee of Charlie Chaplin. He imitates his ‘Tramp’ character on stage in cabaret theatres in France, much to the disappointment of his father. As the war consumes the country, Marceau begins to work with friends rescuing orphaned Jewish children. His skills as an entertainer help him briefly transport the children from the horrors of the real world into a simple fantasy of Marceau’s making. During these scenes it looks worryingly like we’re in for a very mawkish experience about disguising war for innocent eyes – like Jakob the Liar or Life Is Beautiful – but director Jonathan Jakubowicz thankfully pulls back from that.

    Instead, he drives forward with a handsome, if generic, war thriller. The attempt to tell a collection of stories, including that of Klaus Barbie (Matthis Schweighofer), a Nazi so vicious he was nicknamed The Butcher of Lyon, means Marceau begins to get a bit lost in his own biopic. In the lead role, Eisenberg slips uncomfortably into Marceau’s skin. His natural energy is too clenched for the gregarious Marceau. He doesn’t convince as a born entertainer. The reason Marceau is the only famous mime is because he was so good at what he did. He could act with such precision that he made you believe he was grappling with an invisible ladder or trapped in an invisible box. Eisenberg is always visibly pretending there’s something there.

    Resistance
    Jesse Eisenberg and Clémence Poésy in ‘Resistance’. Credit: Vertigo Releasing

    Imperfect as it is, there’s no faulting the intent of Jakubowicz’s film. It is sincere in all its choices and never leans too hard on a moment to try to wring it for maximum emotion. It knows when to make a noise and it knows when it’s better to just keep quiet and show instead of tell.

    Details

    • Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz
    • Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Clémence Poésy, Matthias Schweighöfer
    • Release date: June 19 (Digital)
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