“Resistance” looks into the early years of Marcel Marceau during World War II, and the result is fairly watchable while not distinguishing itself much from many other similar World War II movies out there. Sure, I am glad to learn a bit about Marceau’s brave deeds during that very dangerous time when he could have got killed, but the movie simply moves from one predictable narrative point to another, and that is a little disappointing in my inconsequential opinion.
After two prologue parts which are respectively set in 1938 and 1945, the movie shows how everything felt fine and well for young Marcaeu, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and his family and friends in Strasbourg, France in late 1938. Because the city happens to be right next to the border between France and Nazi Germany, many people in the city have been nervous as observing the increasing menace from Nazi Gemany and its dangerous leader, but Marceau is usually occupied with performing a mime at a local cabaret, and his Jewish father, who wants his son to take over their family business someday, is not so pleased about that.
On one day, Marceau is asked to handle the transfer of German Jewish orphans on the border along with others including his older brother Allain (Félix Moati). Although he is not particularly interested in doing this important thing, Marceau soon finds himself doing a bit more than expected when some of these German Jewish orphans, most of whom lost their parents due to the ongoing persecution on Jewish people in Nazi Germany, really need to be cheered up.
The German Jewish orphans are all taken to a nearby castle which is going to function as a temporary orphanage for them, but Allain and his colleagues are still concerned about these unfortunate kids’ uncertain future. Everyone senses that Hitler and Nazi Germany will start a war sooner or later, and it goes without saying that Strasbourg will not be safe for the German Jewish orphans once France gets involved in the war.
Allain and his colleagues try to find an alternative as soon as possible, but the war is eventually begun in the very next year, and Nazi Germany sweeps into France in 1940 after swiftly invading the Netherlands and Belgium. Marceau and his family left Strasbourg in advance, and so did the German Jewish orphans, but now they all get stuck in Lyon, a city located in the center of Vichy France.
While still trying to protect their German Jewish children as much as possible, Marceau, Alain, and his neighborhood friend Emma (Clémence Poésy) also join the French Jewish Resistance along with Marceau’s cousin Georges (Géza Röhrig), and we get a tense sequence where Marceau and his comrades must evade the watchful eyes of those Nazi German soldiers at the train station. Although they soon have a serious setback, they all manage to get away from the scene thanks to Marceau’s quick improvisation, and that certainly exasperates Kalus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), a high-ranking Gestapo agent in the charge of catching French Resistance members in Lyon.
As relentlessly cornered by Barbie later, Marceau and his colleagues naturally become quite helpless and frustrated, but Marceau manages to stay cool as musing on how they can win. Yes, they can kill some Nazi bastards for retaliation, but that is rather meaningless and unproductive and Marceau has a better idea for more productive revenge. Besides those Jewish orphans under their care and protection, many other Jewish orphans keep coming to them, and Marceau proposes that they should take these poor children to Switzerland in small groups.
Of course, that is certainly not an easy thing to do, considering how much Barbie and his men try to catch Marceau and his comrades by any means necessary. At one point, Barbie, who is a real-life figure once known as “the Butcher of Lyon”, brutally attempts to coerce one of Marceau’s comrades, and you can clearly sense that person will soon be broken down in front of an impossible situation.
Eventually, the movie arrives at the narrative point where Marceau and his comrades try to bring a group of Jewish orphans to Switzerland, and we get a series of predictable moments of suspense when they and their Jewish orphans must maintain their disguise without any mistake. Thanks to director/writer/co-producer Jonathan Jakubowicz and his crew members, the mood is often quite tense on the screen, but there is also a darkly humorous moment when Marceau must balance himself well between two different urgent matters to deal with.
I must point out that Jakubowicz’s screenplay is rather superficial and perfunctory in terms of characterization, but his main cast members fill their spots as much they can at least. While Eisenberg is alternatively nerdy and intense as required, Clémence Poésy, Matthias Schweighöfer, Félix Moati, and Géza Röhrig are adequately cast in their functional roles, and Ed Harris and Édgar Ramírez do not have much to do in their thankless cameo appearance in the film.
Overall, “Resistance” is an earnest war dram film made with considerable skill and good intention, but it did not impress me much, and my mind was often taken back to some better World War II films ranging from “Army of Shadows” (1969) to “Black Book” (2006). No, I did not feel like wasting my time, but I still think the movie could be more distinctive and interesting considering its fascinating human subject, and, with some disappointment lingering in my mind, I am ready to move on next films to watch.