• 18 Apr - 24 Apr, 2020
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At the time of his death in 2007, Marcel Marceau was the world’s most famous mime. But in 1938-’39, when World War II rescue drama Resistance takes place, Jewish-born Marcel Mangel was just 15 years old (two decades younger than actor Jesse Eisenberg, who plays him here) and had not yet adopted his stage name, much less the stage. As it happens, this would be the most exciting chapter of his life – and one about which the tight-lipped performer seldom spoke – making for a fresh entry point to an otherwise familiar if ever relevant subject.

Drawn from research and firsthand interviews with Marceau’s cousin, Jewish Boy Scouts leader Georges Loinger, the historical thriller tells of Marceau’s heroic efforts to save hundreds of orphans from the Holocaust.

Early in Resistance, Marcel describes himself as “not good with children,” and yet, it turns out, he’s uniquely suited to entertaining them, while his improvisational nature proves an asset as well. Later, while escorting a group of children to the border by train, he comes face-to-face with infamous SS officer Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer). It’s a tense scene in which the chilling Nazi villain mistakes Marcel’s paste-on Chaplin mustache for a way to make fun of Adolf Hitler. “I think it’s important to help the children laugh in the middle of this war,” explains Marcel, and there are glimpses of that philosophy in practice, as the aspiring actor practices the comical performance style that would become his signature in peacetime.

Raised by a Jewish butcher, the young Marcel defies his father’s wishes to follow in the family business, spending his free time painting and practicing his Chaplin routine in the local cabaret. Convincingly re-created in the Czech Republic, the film takes place primarily in occupied France, where Marcel’s older brother Alain (Felix Moati) was active in the French Resistance.

Under the pretext of organising a scouting camp for Jewish children, Marcel’s cousin Georges (Géza Röhrig) and the Save the Children Foundation pay a fortune to divert Jewish orphans from the concentration camps to a castle. It’s at this point that Marcel gets involved. Eisenberg portrays Marcel as clumsy and awkward in real-life situations, but intuitive and graceful when play-acting, and he almost instantly realises that his gifts have a practical application when trying to make kids feel more comfortable in an intimidating situation.