When you read Marcel Marceau's Wikipedia page, two things stand out: 1) He was the most famous and influential mime in history, and 2) he was friends with Michael Jackson. Neither credit would really appeal to a 21st century audience, so I understand why storytellers would choose to delve into his war efforts. Oh no, wait, his actions during the WWII were courageous, dangerous and absolutely incredible, and outside of the war he was a guy that pretended there was a wall or a dog on leash when there was none. Okay, yes, I just nutshelled a genius in his field and brutally insulted an entire community of performers - for this, I apologise, but I just sat through two hours of the most atrocious storytelling, and I'm taking my anger out on mimes.
It's 1938 in Nazi Germany and a young girl, Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey, TV's 'Game of Thrones'), is orphaned as the SS storm her home and murder her parents in the street - it's Kristallnacht. Meanwhile in Strasbourg, France Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg, 'Vivarium', 'The Double', 'The Social Network') is honing his acting skills on the stage at a cabaret, much to his butcher father's disapproval. When a friend asks Marcel to help welcome 123 orphaned Jewish children (Elsbeth included) he begrudgingly complies, complaining that he needs to work on his material, before becoming overwhelmed with love and empathy for his newfound friends, who also happen to find him and his entertaining methods hilarious. Realising the war is encroaching, Marcel and others including his brother Alain (Félix Moati, 'The French Dispatch') and possible love interest Emma (Clémence Poésy, the 'Harry Potter' franchise) make the decision to move the children south before eventually breaking off to join the La Résistance in Lyon. There they encounter Klaus Barbie, known as the "Butcher of Lyon" - a sadistic Gestapo head - while struggling with fighting a losing war and fearing for the lives of the now tens of thousands of children once in their care.
In 1938, Marcel Mangel was 15 years old. By the time the war ended, he was 22. In 'Resistance', he's portrayed by a 36-year-old Jesse Eisenberg. It's fine, I get it, there aren't a lot of Jewish actors to choose from in Hollywood, so finding someone age-appropriate must have been impossible. ...I'll give you a second to think about that. Look, I'm not saying that casting an actor closer to Marcel's actual age would have greatly added to the film and the gravity of his accomplishments, I'm just saying... that casting an actor closer to Marcel's actual age would have greatly added to the film and the gravity of his accomplishments. I'm also saying that Jesse needed to be a little less Jesse and a little more Marcel. A lot more Marcel, actually.
'Resistance' is awkwardly framed by a 1944 Ed Harris General Patton addressing his troops to bring them the story of a heroic man - the film ending with a Marcel Marceau performance, one fans will know as his first major performance. Yes, it starts wrong and just gets worse from there. Throw in a sadistic Nazi desperate to have the charisma and on-screen punch as if Tarantino had written him, and a real-life character that no amount of research can corroborate that Mangel had any interaction with.
Jesse needed to be a little less Jesse and a little more Marcel.
The film spends so much time moving Mangel from one place to another and having self-reflective moments with his co-stars that the film fails to really highlight his accomplishments or how he actually achieved them. Instead, it favours grandiose characters, weak attempts at tension, false love interests and incomplete arcs. Yet another case of when great stories happen to not-so-great filmmakers. Marcel Mangel and Marcel Marceau deserve better.
'Resistance' is available to rent on the Foxtel Store until the 11th July. It will be shown in select cinemas from the 22nd June, then available to rent from iTunes, Google Play, Sony (Playstation Network), Microsoft (Xbox Network), Foxtel PPV, Bigpond, Fetch & Quickflix from the 29th July.