If you are among those who can actually name a mime, the only name you probably can come up with is Marcel Marceau.
Even those who know of the uniquely talented Frenchman, however, are unlikely to know that the man who uttered the only word in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie was also a World War II hero, responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of children.
In the generically titled Resistance, Marceau is played by Jesse Eisenberg even though Marceu was about 15 years old at the time the film takes place. We first meet Marceau attempting a Charlie Chaplin-ish performance in a brothel, much to his family’s chagrin. He’s lured into the French Resistance via a gaggle of Jewish orphans temporarily housed on castle grounds. In spite of his admission that he doesn’t really connect to children, Marceau finds an audience — and a mission — by bringing them smiles and laughter in a charming sequence that borders, but never crosses into, Patch Adams or The Day the Clown Cried territory.
Pulled further into action — his transformation happening a bit quicker then, say, Casablanca’s Rick — Marceau proves adept at forging passports and finding hiding places. His actions are well worth honoring, even if the film exaggerates them. (I haven’t done the historical research but the flame-throwing rescue, if nothing else, seems suspect.) And among the tense escape sequences, the film finds time to actually engage with some interesting questions about whether it’s better to violently resist or save who you can and get out of town. For good or ill, Resistance also doesn’t sugarcoat the horror, specifically in its central villain, Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), and his barbaric methods used in the Hotel Terminus.
Not helping matters, though, are a too-on-the-nose opening sequence and an unnecessary framing device featuring Ed Harris as General George S. Patton.
Mime, as Marceau practiced it, requires time. It has to breathe. It pulls the viewer into its rhythm. As such, it’s difficult to capture in the far more hectic pacing of a feature film. Resistance, for the most part, dodges that by focusing on the man and not the art. The result is a worthwhile story, reasonably well told.