There is a great history of clowns. Marcel Marceau, the most famous of mimes, desperately deserves a biopic. Here is portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. It is a loose portrayal not worried about details of mannerism or internal character. It is the kind of external history picture where the plot floats on external expression, explores their outer lives. There is so much to hook onto here. Instead of utilizing the significant would-be central character, as the title does imply, the film’s concerned with the whole of the Resistance. It spends as much time on characters not yet known to histories, ones it does not feel urgently motivated to flesh out. It comes almost as a side note that this great figure helped to save ten-thousand orphans’ lives — how is that not the movie?
There would still be a central problem to the conceit. Eisenberg does not embody the famed mime at all. It could be that it’s the hardest work of clownery to pull it off. What does a good impersonation look like of a person who’s doing their own pantomime of being a person, of moving and playing with invisibility as a premise — “to make the invisible, visible, and the visible, invisible”. We believe when he’s booed off-stage for his Chaplin-lite performances, but not the ethos of the character. It is not so much an embodiment as a pantomime of acting itself. Eisenberg is not totally unfit either, we’ve just seen him within the same week do good things for Vivarium. What is crucial is how the director frames the character, and the character of their vision. That largely misses, while actors may turn in any kind of performance, it has to match the tenor of the film itself to count for something. Here, it’s wild in the abandon of its plot; not an entirely unpleasant film, but one that is unconcerned with the great story unfolding in front of it.
We break away often from what it establishes as the plot. The director spends as much time with the French resistance subplots as their primary story. It is not all bad news. Everyone is trying and the actual message and intention of the thing are inherently good. It is valuable to tell these stories and to keep telling them in times of great duress. They are warm soup for a sick country at odds with itself. A reminder that some action is better than no action.
There is some hope left in the acting. Menacing Gestapo man Klaus Barbie (a perfectly menacing Matthias Schweighöfer) steals all of the scenes he is in. There is a small disconnect that the closest it comes to the embodiment of its characters is a Nazi officer, but it’s a really staggering, good take stuck inside a meandering film. His performance is one of real terror and feeling. Wasted is the role of George S. Patton (Ed Harris, existing in the movie), which the film would not do anything differently without. A tighter handle on the edit and overarching tone could really make use of a more than able cast. Resistance requires a reordering from the top. It is never the talent’s fault when it does not work, but the structure and direction itself.
There is something to be said for making necessary stories whatever the outcome. It’s important to continue telling stories like Resistance. If it is not a good result, it is still a teachable moment of history. We all need to know about the great personal sacrifice that outlines its story. The film is rarely up to the sizable task ahead of it, but better to take on a job with great expectations than to have never tried. Now we know the movie we need and it exists within the same story. Hopefully, someone will find the right tools to tell it.