Jesse Eisenberg Is Marcel Marceau in Uneven WWII Drama ‘Resistance’

Resistance,” a World War II drama that depicts some of the atrocities committed in Nazi-occupied France, features an unlikely subject, famed actor and mime Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg). When one usually hears his name, they almost always conjure up an image of a man in a striped shirt and white face paint trapped in an invisible box. However, Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz brings to light Marceau’s heroic actions during the war, a chapter in his life that the notoriously quiet entertainer rarely spoke of.

When we first meet Marcel, he’s like most young artists, mainly because he’s in rebellion of his father, Charles (Karl Markovics), a butcher who wishes his son would settle down and pick a more sensible career path. He’s also self-centered and, much to his parents’ dismay, in no rush to start a family, although he has a thing for local gal Emma (Clémence Poésy). However, according to her mother, Emma is the only young Jewish girl in Strausbourg who doesn’t want to get married. As we come to learn, she has dedicated herself to a life of service. Marcel, meanwhile, is most happy dressing up as Charlie Chaplin for cabaret shows, or, as Charles sees it, he’s “a clown dressed like Hitler in a whorehouse.”

Like most heros, Marcel is reluctant to answer his call to action. When his cousin Georges (Géza Röhrig) tells him about the group of Jewish orphans who have been saved from the Nazis and are now being housed in a local castle, Marcel initially turns down the request to help, stating that he is not very good with children. However, he soon finds that youngsters appreciate his art in a way adults never could. He works alongside and becomes close with Emma, and at times their existence in the castle seems almost idyllic. But the threat of the Nazis is never far off, and they are soon forced to move the children into Christian homes as the Nazi invaison takes over France.

Among the orphaned children is Elsbeth (a fantastic Bella Ramsey), a young teen who witnesses her parents’ murders on their doorstep. Jakubowicz not-so-subtly finds parallels between the animosity towards the Jewish people and our current climate in the U.S. “Why do they hate us?” Elsbeth asks her parents as they tuck her into bed moments before they are killed. “Hitler is just blaming us for the suffering of the working class,” answers her father (Édgar Ramírez).

Eventually, along with Emma and others, Marcel joins the resistance, doing things like forging passports to setting Nazis on fire. The group’s actions catch the attention of Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), the fearsome and ruthless SS officer known as the “Butcher of Lyon.”

Eisenberg seems to give his all here, but this isn’t “Social Network,” and he never really disappears into the role of Marceau — one never forgets that they are watching Eisenberg. However, some of the best scenes are of him just clowning around and entertaining the kids, boosting morale. For a film about a beloved mime, there is little whimsy, and “Resistance” loses focuses in its second half when it ventures more into clichéd Nazi film territory, including gratutious scenes of torture. There’s also a frame story involving Ed Harris as a U.S. Army commander shoehorned in that adds little to the film, although it leads to a stirring scene in which Marcel performs for the troops at the end of the war.

Resistance” is available March 27 on digital platforms and VOD.