The world feels different at the moment, so this review will, somewhat necessarily, be different. Movies speak to the time in which they are made and the period which they are made about, but they also speak to the time in which they are released (and even later, viewed).
So, “Resistance” (2020) is being released on demand this week. Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the movie stars Jesse Eisenberg as the famed French mime, Marcel Marceau, before he became said famed French mime. In fact, it focuses on Marceau’s time in the French Resistance during World War II, helping Jewish children evade the Nazis.
In other words, it’s not exactly the lighthearted sort of fare one might choose to watch in order to escape the homebound world in which many of us find ourselves. Whether or not this reviewer would have teared up under normal circumstances watching a middling Eisenberg with a not-very-convincing (and I’m not sure constant/consistent) French accent fight Nazis is one of those things we will never know. What is inescapable, however, is that with coronavirus sweeping through our nation and the Executive Branch of our Federal government seeming to still not be able to tell the truth about what is happening and what our response to this plague should be, I did tear up watching “Resistance.”
Yes, the movie resonates far better today than it otherwise might have. It is a far more emotional experience than it otherwise would have been. Watching Eisenberg’s Marceau making children laugh and celebrate despite the horrors around them is uplifting. It would be under any circumstances, but it is even more so now.
What would also be the case no matter when one viewed the movie is the fact that Clémence Poésy (perhaps best known for portraying Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter films) is wonderful as Marceau’s girlfriend and compatriot, Emma, who played no small role in helping the resistance herself. She is powerful in the role and worth watching.
Even if “Resistance” has weak points (we’re getting to more of them), it excels in drawing out Marceau’s family and friends. From his conversations with his father, Charles Mangel (Karl Markovics), and brother, Alain (Felix Moati), to his love of Emma, the movie makes these bonds explicit, even when they are full of tension. Marceau is fully placed into this world and these relationships in a manner that feels real and valid and helps explain his work with the Resistance.
However, on the Nazi side, we see Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer), and while we get his wife and daughter in the film, the portrait is all too incomplete. Much of this has to do with the structure of the film, which is awkward at best.
Barbie, and others, are introduced in a heavy-handed, stilted fashion. The viewer can’t imagine how Barbie is relevant in the story when he is introduced, we simply must take it on faith that the film has moved to a completely different portion of the same tale rather than an entirely new one, and that eventually things will merge.
For what it is worth, Marceau is introduced awkwardly as well, with the entire film being told within a frame as Ed Harris’s General Patton addresses his troops in Europe after France’s liberation. Patton is not a large part of the film, appearing simply at the beginning and end, and the need for him is questionable at best.
The sense offered from all of this is that the movie’s narrative unfolded in several different ways as it went from an early screenplay draft to finished film and that remnants of other versions remain. Whether or not this is in fact the case is not something I can determine, but it is certainly the explanation that first springs to mind.
But, again, the times are not normal and consequently “Resistance” can be forgiven its issues and inconsistencies and a message, unintended though it may be, shines through: people have had it worse than we have it now; the most important thing we can do in this moment is support those who need it, offering assistance as we are able.
That is a pretty good message in all times, now in particular.
photo credit: IFC Films