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Film Review: “Resistance” Struggles to Lay a Fine Point on Marcel Marceau’s Life

Written by: Patrick Howard | March 26th, 2020

Film poster: “Resistance”

Resistance (Jonathan Jakubowicz, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.

The World War II historical drama has truly become a genre of its own. It gains the attention of the best artists working in Hollywood and, with the right marketing push by a studio, will surely be a serious Oscar contender for next year’s Academy Awards. Yes, it appears the WWII epic is a genre that raises high expectations for any cinephile worth their salt. Nowadays, this genre, like any other, must overcome one particular obstacle: innovation.

In regard to WWII, I confidently proclaim every year to myself, “that’s it; I’ve seen it all!” We have films like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line that have depicted the action and perils of soldiers fighting on the front lines, and then we have films like Schindler’s List and The Pianist that have depicted the nightmarish and hellish acts of the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Third Reich. Surely, Hollywood writers should set their sights on a new war to dramatize. I think Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders’ involvement in the Spanish-American war could use some overdue attention. 

Jonathan Jakubowicz’s Resistance, starring Jessie Eisenberg as acclaimed French mime Marcel Marceau, commendably directs our attention to a near-forgotten group of heroes who saved thousands upon thousands of Jewish children. Sadly, while the story content is fresh on paper, the result by Jakubowicz and company is a surprisingly dull and by-the-numbers entry of the genre. The film tells the story of the rarely discussed heroism of Marceau and a group of brave Jewish Boy Scout leaders who join the French resistance to smuggle ten thousand Jewish children to Switzerland before they fall into the clutches of the Nazis. 

Jesse Eisenberg as “Marcel” in Jonathan Jakubowicz’s RESISTANCE. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

Resistance suffers the most for being … passable. On a technical level, Jakubowicz gets acceptable performances from his actors, and his cinematographer, M.I. Littin-Menz, effectively shows off the scope of 1940s European architecture and nightlife. The impending doom that Eisenberg and his company of heroes face as they try to navigate around the Gestapo foot soldiers, led by Matthias Schweighöfer, surprisingly feels hollow, however. I can’t say exactly why, because any material related to the Nazis is inherently dramatic. Two-thirds into Resistance and I sensed Jakubowicz being preoccupied with laying out the factual events that occurred and making sure each one is handled with class and sensitivity. 

Resistance may strike a nerve with some viewers, due to the horrific acts inflicted on the Jewish people. However, it’s awkward to credit a film for passably depicting something that occurred in real life. The depiction of the Holocaust in Schindler’s List brilliantly stands out among similar imagery in other Holocaust films because Steven Spielberg directed the story in a way no other director could if given the chance.

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Patrick Howard has been a cinephile since age seven. Alongside 10 years of experience in film analysis and criticism, he is a staunch supporter of all art forms and believes their influence and legacy over human culture is vital. Mr. Howard takes the time to write his own narrative stories when he can.

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