BRIAN VINER reviews gripping story of mime artist Marcel Marceau in Resistance

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BRIAN VINER reviews gripping story of mime artist Marcel Marceau in Resistance

When I was a child, my mother took me to see the famous French mime artist Marcel Marceau perform in London, telling me, a little extravagantly, th

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When I was a child, my mother took me to see the famous French mime artist Marcel Marceau perform in London, telling me, a little extravagantly, that he was the world’s funniest clown.

My excitement began to abate pretty much as soon as he began gurning and after five minutes had evaporated altogether. Then acute boredom set in. He wasn’t even as funny as Peter Glaze on Crackerjack!, in my eight-year-old opinion. The great man’s mime routine, certainly at that late stage of his career, was far more tailored for grown-up audiences.

That he was indisputably a great man, however, is the firm message of Jonathan Jakubowicz’s film Resistance, which is mostly set during World War II and stars Jesse Eisenberg as Marceau.

That he was indisputably a great man, however, is the firm message of Jonathan Jakubowicz’s film Resistance, which is mostly set during World War II and stars Jesse Eisenberg as Marceau

That he was indisputably a great man, however, is the firm message of Jonathan Jakubowicz’s film Resistance, which is mostly set during World War II and stars Jesse Eisenberg as Marceau

But in this largely true story it is not his dramatic talent that imbues him with greatness. Rather, it is the courage he shows in leading groups of Jewish children, whose parents have been murdered or carted off to concentration camps, from occupied France to safety in neutral Switzerland, right under the noses of the Nazis.

I must admit that until I saw Resistance I had no idea that Marceau was Jewish, the son of a kosher butcher in Strasbourg, still less that he was a war hero.

The film starts in 1938, showing us how he uses his burgeoning artistry as a mime to win the affection of scared German-Jewish orphans. Even more importantly, he shows them how to hide in plain sight, how to make ‘the invisible visible, and the visible, invisible’.

There are striking echoes in all this of Roberto Benigni’s 1997 tearjerker Life Is Beautiful, and perhaps also a whiff of last year’s Jojo Rabbit. But there’s nothing to ridicule about these Nazis, least of all Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer), the so-called Butcher of Lyon, who insists on committing acts of unspeakably cruel torture himself.

A caption at the end gives no hint of one of history’s great outrages, that Barbie was ushered to safety after the war by U.S. intelligence agents eager to tap into his hatred of Communism.

The film starts in 1938, showing us how he uses his burgeoning artistry as a mime to win the affection of scared German-Jewish orphans

The film starts in 1938, showing us how he uses his burgeoning artistry as a mime to win the affection of scared German-Jewish orphans

Lyon is the centre of the French Resistance so that is where Marceau, his girlfriend Emma (the ever-beguiling Clemence Poesy) and other Jewish Resistance fighters have come.

It is also within striking distance of the Alps and freedom. But before they can lead their charges to safety, there are some genuinely tense moments, mostly involving the depraved Barbie.

Resistance is a flawed film. Speaking in an indeterminate European accent, Eisenberg gives one of those nervy, tic-laden performances (see The Social Network and, for that matter, pretty much everything else he’s done) that can be unhelpfully distracting.

A sub-plot detailing Marceau’s edgy relationship with his father is another distraction, and the film doesn’t need to be book-ended by General Patton (Ed Harris) introducing Marceau to his troops. It’s a corny device.

Nevertheless, this is still a story worth telling, and on the whole it isn’t told badly. It probably would have made no difference, but I still wish I’d known, aged eight, that I was watching not just a clown, but also a saviour.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so good as an intrepid tightrope-walker in 2015’s The Walk, here needs to show another kind of resourcefulness at a great height, when the flight his character is co-piloting from Berlin to Paris is attacked by Islamic terrorists

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so good as an intrepid tightrope-walker in 2015’s The Walk, here needs to show another kind of resourcefulness at a great height, when the flight his character is co-piloting from Berlin to Paris is attacked by Islamic terrorists

There’s a different kind of peril at the heart of 7500, a low-budget hijack thriller which takes place entirely in the cockpit of the stricken plane, and might remind you of other deliberately claustrophobic dramas, such as the excellent 2013 film Locke. 7500, by the way, is the code pilots use for a hijacking.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so good as an intrepid tightrope-walker in 2015’s The Walk, here needs to show another kind of resourcefulness at a great height, when the flight his character is co-piloting from Berlin to Paris is attacked by Islamic terrorists.

They demand access to the cockpit and he won’t let them in, even when they threaten to kill hostages until he does. But professional duty clashes with personal angst when his girlfriend, a stewardess, becomes one of their captives.

Like Resistance, 7500 is not without flaws. But director Patrick Vollrath keeps it taut, tense and mostly plausible enough to make me, at least, feel relieved that I’m not about to get on a plane any time soon.

Telling the truth: my pick of the best documentaries 

Over the past three months I have listed my 100 favourite feature films and now it’s time for the documentaries I cherish the most — the first batch this week, more next — with my favourite foreign language movies to come. I’ve had lots of feedback so far at [email protected] so please keep it coming. It keeps me on my toes! Meanwhile, in no particular order . . .

When We Were Kings (1996)

Leon Gast’s riveting film about the 1974 ‘Rumble In The Jungle’, the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in Zaire, for the heavyweight championship of the world. It’s about so much more than boxing. An absolute classic.

For Sama (2019)

Nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars, it’s a truly heartrending Arabic-language film about the Syrian uprising and the challenge of raising children in a war zone, produced, narrated by and featuring the remarkable Waad Al-Kateab.

Man On Wire (2008)

For me, this is even more of a white-knuckle ride than 2018’s gripping Free Solo. Crafted more like a thriller, it’s about the French high-wire daredevil who in 1974 walked, illegally, between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center.

Crafted more like a thriller, it’s about the French high-wire daredevil who in 1974 walked, illegally, between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center

Crafted more like a thriller, it’s about the French high-wire daredevil who in 1974 walked, illegally, between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center

Three Identical Strangers (2018)

It’s fair to say we’re in a golden age of documentary-making and here is another pearler, telling the engrossing, and at times terribly sad, story of identical triplets who were all adopted and only met each other, by pure chance, when they were 19.

Amy (2015)

The second of Asif Kapadia’s brilliant trilogy of films, all with one-name titles, about the perils that extravagant, precocious talent can bring. This biopic of the singer Amy Winehouse is unflinching, enlightening and, ultimately, heartbreaking.

This biopic of the singer Amy Winehouse is unflinching, enlightening and, ultimately, heartbreaking

This biopic of the singer Amy Winehouse is unflinching, enlightening and, ultimately, heartbreaking

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