Resistance (2020) Review
HEROIC AND MEANINGFUL,
BUT A GENERIC AND UNEVEN TALE
World War II movies have often shined in two very distinct ways of storytelling. The first has been on the various battles throughout the war; showcasing the gritty battlefront lines of war on its different modes of fighting (i.e. land, sea, and air) as well as demonstrating the valiant yet hellish combat that the many soldiers faced during these times. The other half has focused on the more humanity of war; presenting narratives of strife and struggles of civilians who are caught in the middle of all this; victims of enemy propaganda and of the current battles being waged around them. Stories like these have certainly tugged on the heartstrings; presenting narratives of human courage, bravery, and the entangled spark of hope during such dark times. Naturally, Hollywood has taken an interest in such brave stories with many “based of true story” adaptations been made throughout the years, including Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Life is Beautiful, Defiance, The Boy in the Stripe Pajamas, Woman in Gold, and The Zookeeper’s Wife just to name a few. Now, Hollywood returns to the WWII era of tales of unsung courage and harsh struggles as IFC Films and director Jonathan Jakubowicz present the movie Resistance, the story of Marcel Marceau and his involvement in the French Resistance during WWII. Does the movie shed light (cinematically) on Marceau’s tale or does the feature’s ambition bite off more than it can chew?
Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg) is an aspiring actor working in a cabaret; honing his skills to bring laughter and joy to his craft. However, his disapproving father would prefer that his son follow him in his trade (i.e. a Kosher butcher). Unfortunately, both ambitions are thrown into disarray with the Nazi invasion of France, with Marcel’s father getting shipped off to Auschwitz and Marcel himself joining the French Resistance Underground to do his part, but to mainly in order to protect a group of recently Jewish orphans with comedic charm for playful distraction as well as staying close to the attractive Emma (Clémence Poésy). Opposing them throughout their cause is Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), one of the most ruthless and sadistic Nazis in history. In an attempt to move the orphans from occupied France to neutral Switzerland, Marcel and Emma face difficultly and hardships, with Klaus’s forces trying to evade their journey and squash the fires of resistance once and for all.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
A little snippet piece from my review of The Zookeeper’s Wife perfectly sums up this paragraph, which is why it will sound a bit familiar to those who have red it. During my high school years (in my history classes), I learned about World War Ii and all of its hardships, battles, and complexities that lasted during duration, including the pre-and-post years of the war. While I enjoyed listening to all about the famous battles (what can I say…I’m a history buff), hearing about the Holocaust and how Jewish people were treated during the war by the Nazi party was heartbreaking. In school, I had to read the book Night by Elie Wiesel (a book I do recommend) as well having to write a fictional WWII story for my 10th grade project. I chose to write about a young Jewish boy named Mizer Gola and how his family got caught up in the war. While it was hardly the scholarly work or even on the same writing caliber that I am today, my 10th grade history teacher was impressed with my story of Mizer Gola and said I should become a writer of some kind; something that resonates with me today.
Anyways, with my love of movies, I’ve seeing plenty of WWII movies, including those ones that deal with the Holocaust. While these are usually somewhat depressing movies to watch, they still have a palpable feeling, showcasing the hardships and atrocities (under a cinematic light) that the Jewish people faced during the German Reich. While many will say that Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is a fan-favorite one of this topic, my personal favorite would have to be the 1997 film Life Is Beautiful, which starred Roberto Benigni. While it presented some elements in a comedy satire (somewhat), the film still retains a powerful and thematic story arc of a family caught in the WWII holocaust. If you haven’t seeing it, I do highly recommend it. Back to the point of this review, I really didn’t hear much about Resistance when it was announced. Maybe the primary reason for this was due to the fact that it was a smaller / more independent film release than others, with more prominent studio releases catching my eye for viewing / reviewing. Of course, due to the whole COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve completed a lot of the film reviews that I had saw prior the closings of the movie theaters and now turn toward my movie loving gaze to some “overlooked” 2020 entries, including Resistance. As said, I didn’t hear much about the movie (barring a few reviews of it), so I decided to check out the film’s movie trailer online and found it to be interesting. An odd choice for an actor like Jesse Eisenberg to play a central character in a otherwise serious / gravitas war drama, but it was definitely something interesting as I didn’t know much about the French Resistance beyond a few pieces here and there. Thus, I was quite gamed to see Resistance, which I purchased for rent via Vudu during my “stay-at-home” initiative. And what did I think of it? Well, it was alright. Despite a very harrowing tale to be told and a stirring performance from Eisenberg, Resistance bites off more than it can chew. Its not by no means a terrible movie or anything like that, but feels a bit rushed and generic at the same time.
Resistance is directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, whose previous directorial works includes movies like Secuestro express and Hands of Stone as well as several TV series like Lynch and Fugitives. Given his background of previous works, Jakubowicz makes Resistance his most ambitious feature film to date and it definitely shows in the film. As almost customary with narratives that focus on the struggles of WWII, Jakubowicz does not hold back in showing the harsh conditions that many Jews faced during Nazi occupation and the cruelty that they all face under Hitler’s regime, with the movie showcasing plenty of unsettling violence. The juxtaposition of this all (to what stands out in the film) is the charismatic silent hero of Marcel Marceau and the heroic courage he displayed in wanting to both help bring laughter to children in such dark times as well as wanting to do “his part” during the war by joining the infamous French Resistance. To me, this is what made the movie quite enjoyable. Sure, the movie tackles on more than what it can handle (more on that below), but the story of Marcel is quite intriguing and poignant to watch / unfold. I didn’t know much about Marcel Marceau, so Jakubowicz certainly does a good job in portraying Marcel’s journey in the movie, which evokes plenty of interesting facets of humanity and determination in the face of oppression.
In terms of presentation, Resistance does a good job in its overall “look and feel”, with Jakubowicz crafting a cinematic WWII drama that feels quite appropriate for its time. The narrow streets and European cityscapes (both homes and streets) are utilized to the fullest and create a pleasant looking background setting…. even if some of the settings are a bit bleak. Still, none of the movie’s set pieces and locations, including set decorations or costumes, look cheap or anything like that, which makes Resistance’s presentation look authentic and genuine. Even the film’s score, which was composed by Angelo Milli, does a good decent job in evoking emotional drama within the feature’s story.
Unfortunately, Resistance does falter within its own undertaking that, while seems very meaningful and revealing to its story, fails to produce something incredibly noteworthy to other WWII cinematic tales that have come before it. How so? Well, for starters, the feature’s narrative path seems a bit strenuous at times and overtly complexed. This is mainly due to the film’s script, which was penned by Jakubowicz (pulling double duty on the film), with the movie’s narrative taking several meandering ways of trying to convey its main conflict / plot. In other words, Resistance is filled with secondary sub-plots and supporting players in the movie that the true main focus of the feature gets a bit lost along the way. If the feature’s script was presented in a more traditional way (more focused on Marcel’s journey solely), the movie could’ve been better. The end result is a script that gets needlessly complexed and has difficulty in landing what it truly wants to convey. Plus, I felt that the first half of the movie felt like one movie and the latter half was another. It just didn’t sit well with me.
In contribution to this part, Jakubowicz’s direction for the film is a bit generic at times and plays up the standard common tropes of WWII movies of strife, struggles, and the horrifying nuances of Jews and Nazis. This is all well and good, but it all feels a touch generic at times, with a little predictable means here and there. Again, it nothing bad or anything, but he makes for a conventional means of storytelling. Basically, if you’ve seeing a holocaust movie, you get the meaning of Resistance’s nuances and it just struggles to differentiate itself from other similar projects. Plus, the convoluted nature of the narrative jumbles the actual flow of the feature, which makes pacing problems an issue throughout the film.
The cast in Resistance are a mixed bag of sorts and, while that doesn’t apply to the acting talents that were selected to play these characters, the main crux of the criticism derives from the character development and the hurried state of things in the movie (i.e the meandering subplots as mentioned above). Leading the charge in the movie (acting as the “big-ticketed” star of Resistance) is actor Jesse Eisenberg who plays the film’s protagonist character of Marcel Marceau. Eisenberg, known for his roles in Zombieland, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and The Social Network, has certainly been kind of “typecast” within his various movie character roles throughout his career; displaying the right amount socially awkward persona within a particular individual. Thus, he differently seems like quite a good fit as Marcel’s personality; delivering a strong performance in the feature with just the right amount of emotional grip and goofy earnestness throughout the tale. His interactions (as Marcel) with the children are quite humorous as he demonstrates a feeling of genuine fun, safety, and well-being for them….in amidst such a dark and uncertain time period. Throughout the film, Eisenberg also demonstrates a sound performance in the dramatic parts as we (the viewers) follow him on such a profound journey. I do have to admit that it was a bit awkward to see Eisenberg in a such a gravitas film like Resistance, but the actor certainly pulled it off and is perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the movie altogether.
Looking beyond, Eisenberg, actress Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and In Bruges) does a good job as Emma, a fellow compatriot in the “cause” and love interest for Marcel, and actor Matthias Schweighöfer (You Are Wanted and The Manny) as proves to be an effective iteration of Klaus Barbie, a ruthless Gestapo Nazi officer (nicknamed the “Butcher of Lyon”). While both acting talents are good in their respective roles, there characters (like the movie) seem they’ve been biting off more than the film can chew, with Emma lacking the necessary romantic relationship / chemistry to Marcel and Barbie seems a bit out of place in the movie. I’m not saying that Schweighöfer is bad in the film (he’s actually quite menacing in the role), but it just seems like a villainous Nazi officer from another WWII movie instead of this one.
The rest of cast are of quality stock with their acting abilities, but feel a bit forgetful throughout the movie, which is due to the script’s rushing through events and overstuffing the narrative with too much sub-plots. This includes actor Félix Moati (Father and Sons and Nice and Easy) as Alain, actress Vicka Kerekes (Seven Days of Sin and Men in Hope) as Mila, actor Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul and To Dust) as Georges, and actress Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones and Judy) as Elsbeth. All of them are relatively good in their acting scenes and its clear what Jakubowicz wants for them (and their characters), but they all ultimate fall to the wayside in some shape or form; rendering all to be stock-like side characters with little remembrance. Even the actor Ed Harris (The Rock and Apollo 13) as General George S. Patton (a prominent historic general in WWII) seems a bit shoehorned into the movie and feels quite literally out of place. Although, Harris definitely seems like a ideal choice for such a character.
Marcel Marceau finds his theatrical talents of laughter and comedy are put to use and his courage is tested in such difficulty times in the movie Resistance. Director Jonathan Jakubowicz latest film takes a cinematic look at Marcel’s life; projecting the comical laughter he provided as well as harrowing journey he went through during such harsh conditions of Nazi occupation and the sacrifices he made. While the movie struggles with an uneven narrative path as well as clogging up the film with a plethora of subplots, the feature does find a strong premise within its thematic message of storytelling, poignant tale of Marcel Marceau’s journey, and stirring performance from Eisenberg. To me, this movie was relatively good, but not great. Yes, it was quite moving and provoking plenty of emotional drama, but the feature felt a bit generic at times and gets a bit lost within its own undertaking. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a good “rent it” as it should be seeing at least once…. just to learn about what Marcel did. In the end, while movie cinematic tapestry of stories will continue to develop more WWII narratives of war and humanity, Resistance stands somewhere in the middle of everything; poised to be meaningful in what it wants to say, but ends up being a bit too ambitious for its own good.
3.3 Out Of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: March 27th, 2020
Reviewed On: May 17th, 2020
Resistance is 120 minutes long and is rated R for some violence
Thanks for the great review Jason. I’ll take your recommendation on this one and rent it. What you said about Life Is Beautiful is true. Excellent movie.