Review: Resistance — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Inspiring and simultaneously horrifying, the film is a testament to how unspeakably awful we humans can be…and also to how astonishingly often the right person emerges at the right time to do battle with the darkness.

Jesse Eisenberg in a scene from Resistance

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Editor’s Note: Contains Spoilers

Resistance

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: R

Run Time: 2 hours

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Clémence Poésy, Matthias Schweighöfer, Bella Ramsey, Ed Harris

Writer/Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz

Every night these days the news is pointing us in the direction of heroes — medical personnel, store clerks — who are daily putting themselves between us and the COVID-19 virus. And heroes they are. But then comes a movie like Resistance — the true story of French patriots who braved torture and execution to rescue Jewish orphans from Nazi death camps — to remind us of the ultimate reaches of human bravery.

Inspiring and simultaneously horrifying, the film is a testament to how unspeakably awful we humans can be…and also to how astonishingly often the right person emerges at the right time to do battle with the darkness.

One gets the distinct feeling that writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz wanted to keep the real-life identity of his film’s hero under wraps until about a half-hour in. Until that point, he goes to great pains to cloak the young man’s name. But here and there little clues emerge  — until all is made clear in a sweet moment of revelation.

But the distributor’s publicity department seems determined to spoil the surprise: The press materials tell all right up front, and my fellow critics have followed suit. So, here’s a reluctant spoiler alert: Resistance is based on the early life of legendary mime Marcel Marceau, who helped save 10,000 Jewish children, working with the French Underground in the South of France. If you choose to share this film with a friend, do them a favor and don’t let on.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Marceau, bringing the focused intensity he’s implemented so well in films like The Social Network and The End of the Tour. Here he ups his dramatic game, tracing Marceau’s emotional journey from self-absorbed outsider to fanatical liberator — while also tackling the gentle art of mime, a skill that takes a lifetime to master.

He’s striking on both counts, particularly in the film’s most heartwarming moment, as Marceau wins the trust of these traumatized children through the simple power of wordless pretend.

Much later, those same skills are brought to bear by the children themselves, perched silently on tree branches high above their Nazi pursuers.

Eisenberg is surrounded by a similarly committed cast, particularly Clémence Poésy (In Bruges), as the young woman who inspires him to be something more than a disinterested observer, and Bella Ramsey (the young Lorna Luft in Judy) as an orphan whose young life has been defined by the cruelest of atrocities.

Villains lurk on every corner in a film like this, but there’s a special place in Movie Bad Guy Hell for the monster played by Matthias Schweighöfer. His character, too, is based on an infamous real-life figure. I’ll leave the discovery of his identity to you, as Jakubowicz again leaves a nifty trail of clues leading up to the big reveal.

Ed Harris makes a brief bookend appearance as Gen. George S. Patton. He’s not on screen much, but if you listen closely you’ll hear in his delivery a sly tribute to the cadences of George C. Scott, who of course won an Oscar for the role.

Like any number of new films, Resistance suffers from being sent directly to TV instead of enjoying its planned release on a large theatrical screen. Production designer Tomas Voth (What Dreams May Come, Pirates of the Caribbean, Memoirs of a Geisha) has always provided an eyeful for film lovers, and here he has created a starkly striking vision of France under Nazi rule. In the later going, you can almost feel your toes go numb as Marceau leads his diminutive charges across the Alps toward Switzerland.

Most of all, Resistance is a monument to a man we thought we knew. If you thought of Marcel Marceau purely as the guy who begat an annoying generation of street performers, this film will stun you into silence. 

Featured image: Jesse Eisenberg in Resistance. Photo Credit: IFC Films

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