Dripping alternately with molasses and ice water, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s drama about World War II, “Resistance”, strives to find a coherent tone. Describing the true story of how the young Marcel Marceau, the famous French actor and mime, helped Jewish orphans to survive in Nazi-occupied France, the film aims to combat the escalation of the tragedy.
Although Marceau (played by a bad Jesse Eisenberg) is the most original hook of the film, he is also one of his least convincing characters. Watched with disapproval by his father, a Jewish butcher, Marceau (born Marcel Mangel) prefers to perform in Strasbourg cabarets rather than cutting meat. But when his politically active cousin (Geza Rohrig) persuades him to help care for a group of rescued orphans from Germany, his childish clown is a big hit with his traumatized accusations.
The problem is that Marceau’s fanciful attempts to entertain children dilute the growing threat atmosphere on which the story depends. This is more damaging when the action moves to the south of France and when we are presented in more depth to the head of the gently sadistic Gestapo Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer). We have already seen this easy-going devil happily hitting the owners of a gay club in Berlin; now he is serenaded by children who sing “Ave Maria” as he coldly kills the captives in the empty swimming pool of the aptly named Terminus hotel in Lyon.
These changes from sweet to shocking are shocking. However, although Barbie’s lyrical violence is dangerously close to parody, the routine of Schweighöfer’s urban monsters wickedly diverts. Much more than looking at our heartless hero above his sweet crush, Emma (an affectionate Clémence Poésy), or teaching orphans to hide by climbing trees. A meeting on a train between the two men – Marceau, now a member of the French resistance, evacuates the children to the Alps – owes all its suspense to the changing expression changes of Schweighöfer. It would have been superb in silent films.
Between parentheses of strangely redundant scenes of Marceau celebrated by General George S. Patton (Ed Harris) and his troops, the “Resistance” feels disjointed and dated. Lukewarm romantic subplots play like superficial reflections, inserted to meet the expectations of the public, and the secondary characters are ill-defined and disconnected from each other. There is no doubt that Marceau’s wartime exploits – he was also a gifted forger who would continue to work with the American intelligence service – deserve a biopic. This one, however, is too uncomfortably divided between his comic talents and the horrors against which they were deployed.
Classified R for multiple atrocities. Duration: 2 hours. Rent or buy on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.