10 Jun 2020


From At The Movies, 7:31 pm on 10 June 2020

Resistance tells an unlikely story - famous French mime as action hero. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Ed Harris and Bella Ramsey.

Simon Morris: 'Resistance' is a bit of a misnomer. The French Resistance against the Nazis does figure briefly, but it's not really about them.

It's the tale of a French-Jewish boy called Marcel Mangel - a would-be actor and part-time Boy Scout. In 1938, he and his family live in Strasbourg on the German border.

Who better to kick off his story than American general George Patton?

It's Ed Harris, though after he sets up the fact that it's all basically true, and hints that Our Hero is someone significant, we don't see him again for a couple of hours.

Being so close to Germany, Strasbourg is one of the first French towns to take in refugees from the murderous Nazi regime.

Marcel's policeman brother Alain and would-be girlfriend Emma urge the self-centred comedian - played as a French Charlie Chaplin by Jesse Eisenberg - to join them in protecting over a hundred Jewish orphans.

The traumatised children need to be diverted, and Marcel proves to be the very person, with his wonderful talents for mime.

He pulls an imaginary rope, he fights an imaginary wind, he plucks an imaginary balloon from an imaginary tree.

Look, do you need me to draw you a picture?

Of course, young Marcel Mangel is, in fact, future mime superstar Marcel Marceau.

But when the Germans finally invade France, he wants to be more than just a children's entertainer. He wants to fight, even if his military skills are minimal.

But his artistic skills come in handy, particularly when it comes to forging papers and passports.

Using them, the family brings the children South, hotly pursued by the Gestapo. And finally, they do make contact with the Resistance.

This actually comes at the end of a thrilling - if a little implausible - sequence where Marcel rescues his brother, using all sorts of cabaret and carnival skills to do it.

Using Mime to counter the enemy? Really?

Of course, this would be no problem if director Jonathan Jakubowicz was making a certain type of war movie - the sort of romp that Quentin Tarantino and Taika Waititi have made their own.

Certainly the villain - notorious war criminal Klaus Barbie - seems straight out of that playbook.

Barbie is played by German star Matthias Schweighöfer as a Bond villain Nazi.

When Barbie's not furiously beating up gays in a Berlin nightclub, he's shooting Jews and gypsies in a swimming pool conveniently placed beneath Gestapo headquarters.

He occasionally stops shooting the usual suspects for a sinister turn on the swimming pool piano.

But, like Marcel Marceau, director Jakubowicz has more serious intent than mere entertainment. After all, much of this stuff happened - though possibly not the swimming pool piano bit.

Before becoming the most famous mime ever, Marceau and his family helped to save hundreds of Jewish children, smuggling them across the border into Switzerland.

Resistance was probably spoiled for a potential central plot. 'Marcel Marceau, the early years'. 'The evil Klaus Barbie and the gorgeous Emma'. Even 'Schindler's List meets The Sound of Music' - in real life, saving these kids earned Marceau a Legion d'Honneur for heroism.

And lest we forget…

For all its clichés and dramatic license, Resistance is enjoyable enough, if you're mime-tolerant.

It suffers the fate of many films with too many producers from too many countries, though - the so-called "Euro-pudding movies". It doesn't really know what it is.

But if you want to know how Bip the Clown became a decorated war hero... this is that story.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)