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Life and mimes: Marcel Marceau the war hero in Resistance

Jesse Eisenberg stars in compelling film which tells of French artist’s attempts to rescue Jewish orphans from Nazi Germany

18 June, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Jesse Eisenberg as mime artist Marcel Marceau in Resistance

Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz
Certificate: 12a

THE story of mime artist Marcel Marceau’s early life is absolutely terrific – and it means that, while director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s approach feels a little made-for-TV, tell-it-by-numbers war drama, it doesn’t detract from an amazingly moving and heroic narrative.

The opening scene draws directly from history, with a victorious General Patton addressing a gathering of 3,000 American troops in the heart of the German capital, days after Germany’s defeat in April, 1945.

He spoke to them of the meaning of courage, and then introduced Marceau to the crowd. It is a piece of striking theatre to return later to this opening scene to watch the character walk on and perform.

Marcel (played by Jesse Eisenberg) was the son of a Jewish butcher. He became involved in rescuing Jewish orphans from Nazi Germany, and then France – and smuggling them across the Alps to safety.

Marcel is performing in Parisian cabarets, knocking off Charlie Chaplin sketches (it’s not altogether surprising Chaplin was a hero – he too fought fascism any way he could).

His father is none too impressed with his son’s theatrical bent, while his cousins are becoming increasingly politicised, accusing of him of self-indulgence by concentrating on his art while the world is about to burn down.

They became involved in a project to rescue Jewish orphans, many of whom had seen their parents murdered in front of them by the Gestapo.

Marcel, his brother Alain (Félix Moati) and sisters Emma (Clémence Poésy) and Mila (Vica Kerekes) have been working to help rescue children, taking them from safe house to safe house, trying to keep two steps ahead of the Occupying forces and working out how they can strike back.

They move to Lyon to join the Resistance, and it is here the film takes an even more sinister turn.

This is the area controlled by the murderous Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon (Matthias Schweighöfer). It gives the narrative a firmer sense of the scale of what choices they faced when the embodiment of Nazi evil is laid bare by Barbie.

The enormity of what they did deserves retelling, and Jakubowicz has made a laudable effort in their memory.

The main issue with Resistance is it’s not the film it could be. Imagine it in Speilberg’s hands (and a big budget).

But the compelling nature of Marcel Marceau’s story carries it through.


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