Jonathan Jakubowicz’s Resistance comes at a time of surging interest in more action-oriented films relating to the Holocaust, World War II, anti-Semitism, and Nazism. Unlike recent media like Amazon’s Hunters and HBO’s The Plot Against America, Resistance doesn’t participate in any overt historical or genre revisionism, though it is hard to ignore its slight devotion to the thriller genre.
Ostensibly a biopic of famed mime Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg), Resistance takes a dark turn early as the affable and goofy protagonist is thrust into a shadow war against the Nazis by taking part in an effort to transport Jewish children to the safe haven of Switzerland. Consequently, early parts of the film resemble Roberto Benigni’s often and quite fairly maligned Holocaust opus Life is Beautiful (1998). As tension builds, the film takes on the familiar codes and conventions of the “World War II escape movie,” as Marceau and his team evade the Nazis, particularly of Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer).
Much of the film relies on Eisenberg’s charm as an actor. Unlike Benigni’s often cartoonish performance in Life is Beautiful, Eisenberg’s portrayal of Marceau is more realistically grounded, often complementing the gravity of the situations in which he often finds himself. In particular, his relationship with the young Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey of Game of Thrones fame) provides the structural support for the film’s unyielding humanism.
Jakubowicz’s direction and screenplay don’t reinvent the wheel here, resisting the apparent urge to cinematically confront the global rise in anti-Semitism through the action genre. As a result, the film ends up engaging in the same conversations sparked by films like Schindler’s List (1993). Yet, the film’s familiarity is a breath of fresh air against a series like Hunters, which operates through the tropes and conventions of a comic book.
Given the times, Resistance will likely struggle to find an audience. Though viewers looking for a glimmer of hope in dark times might appreciate the film’s humanism.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile