The shutdown of the movie industry during the coronavirus pandemic is leading a variety of studios to release their new movies directly to streaming/on-demand services. The first to release a new movie that had not previously been released in the theaters is IFC Films with Resistance, set amid the Nazi occupation of Europe and the Holocaust.
The hook for this film is that its main character is Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg), who was part of the French Resistance during World War II before going on to become a world-famous mime. Marceau’s original name was Marcel Mangel, a Jewish boy whose dreams of becoming a performer were interrupted when he was compelled to help shelter hundreds of children from the Nazis.
Choosing “Marceau” as a fake name to hide in plain sight, Marcel joined a group that included Emma (Clémence Poésy), Sigmund (Edgar Ramirez), and others, shepherding the children from location to location as the German forces advanced. Leading the way for the Germans was Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), who became known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for personally torturing prisoners.
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film works in fits and starts, but never settles into a proper rhythm. This lack of smoothness is established right from the start, as the film has three beginnings, focusing on multiple other characters before it even gets to Marcel. Things improve once it actually concentrates on him, but Jakubowicz consistently seems to want to explain the story instead of letting it play out organically.
He inserts text onto the screen multiple times to tell the audience exactly what is happening, a fallback device that serves to highlight a lack of visual storytelling ability. Any momentum that had been built up prior to the text appearing comes to a screeching halt. The film is supposed to play out like a thriller, and choosing to stop the story to make people read is unwise.
Still, due to the type of story that is being told, it’s difficult not to get invested in what happens to the characters. They don't come into play much, but Marcel’s mime skills come in handy at various points, especially in one tense scene late in the film. The bonds between the characters are strong, making for some highly emotional moments.
But those individual scenes can’t redeem the film as a whole. The final moment of the film had the potential to be beautiful and poignant. Instead, it’s part of a superfluous bookend that features a wholly unnecessary cameo by Ed Harris as General George S. Patton.
Eisenberg has always been a compelling performer, and he remains so here despite the film’s faults. Poésy, Ramirez, and Bella Ramsey, playing one of the rescued children, all complement him well. Schweighöfer plays the stereotypical Nazi well, although he could have dialed down the evil and still accomplished the same goal.
Filmmakers return to stories about World War II and the Holocaust time and again because there’s no more clear-cut idea of good vs. evil that has existed in human history. Resistance is a worthy story to tell, but the methods used to tell it ultimately fail to match its importance.
Resistance is available on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay/YouTube, Vudu, PlayStation, and many on-demand cable platforms.