If you’re of a certain age, Resistance will likely be one of those remarkable ‘I can’t believe this is true’ stories. The central figure, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is Marcel, a Strasbourg-born mime artist performing his work in Occupied France during WWII. He is, of course, Marcel Marceau, the man who became synonymous with the art of mime for more than sixty years. But this is not a film about his rise to fame; rather it’s a story of everyday heroism.
This is where that ‘remarkable’ element comes in, especially for those who are familiar with Marceau as a mime star. As a young man, he found his way into the French Resistance and helped saved hundreds and hundreds of children, ferrying them out of France. Later, he became liaison officer for General George Patton – here, played in a sequence that bookends the film, by the inimitable Ed Harris – at the tail-end of the conflict.
The director of Resistance is Jonathan Jakubowicz, the Venezuelan filmmaker of Polish-Jewish origins who previously made Hands of Stone, about boxer Roberto Duran. In truth, his approach is solid more than spectacular – perhaps not quite as remarkable as Marceau’s story deserves. But as the story unfolds it grows in confidence, the tone becoming more assured as various threads coalesce.
This includes Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer, chilling), the Gestapo’s so-called ‘Butcher of Lyon’, who is on the hunt for Resistance members. A particularly difficult-to-take scene sees him execute several prisoners as they stand in an empty municipal swimming pool, the perfect place for the blood to just drain away. Intriguingly, Jakubowicz also includes scenes with Barbie and his wife, proof that even monsters can be domesticated.
There are some excellent set pieces, with Jakubowicz more than capable of building tension – whether Nazis are searching carriages on a train or chasing our heroes to the Swiss border. He also avoids using the whimsy of Marceau’s art form for any light relief or humour (and thus we don’t enter into a Life Is Beautiful-type situation). Featuring strong support from the likes of Clémence Poésy, as Marceau’s sweetheart, Resistance will leave you marvelling at the sheer courage of all those who fought against fascism.
Resistance is available on Netflix from 19 June. For more details, click here.