Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr Jonathan Jakubowicz
prd Claudine Jakubowicz, Dan Maag, Thorsten Schumacher, Carlos Garcia de Paredes, Patrick Zorer, Jonathan Jakubowicz
with Jesse Eisenberg, Clemence Poesy, Matthias Schweighofer, Felix Moati, Vica Kerekes, Geza Rohrig, Ed Harris, Bella Ramsey, Karl Markovics, Alex Fondja, Aurelie Bancilhon, Edgar Ramirez
release US 27.Mar.20,
UK 19.Jun.20
20/UK 2h01

poesy rohrig harris

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This period drama recounts the extraordinary story of Marcel Marceau's work with the French Resistance during World War II. It's a long and fairly traditional film, with fine production values and solid performances from an eclectic cast, and it shifts between several perspectives to provide a wider picture and create some tense set-pieces. It's a fascinating account, even if a lack of artistic focus leaves it less emotionally resonant.
As the Nazis begin arresting and killing Jews in 1938, Marcel (Eisenberg) is in Strasbourg working in the family's kosher butcher shop while honing his mime skills. With his intended Emma (Poesy), uncle Georges (Rohrig) and brother Alain (Moati), he joins the resistance, rescuing children whose parents have been murdered. As he teaches them how to survive, Marcel's clownish routines lift the kids' spirits. Then the Nazis invade France, forcing the residents of Strasbourg to flee. But Marcel and his cohorts continue rescuing children, and then work to secretly transport them to safety in Switzerland.
The film is framed with General Patton (Harris) sharing the story with Allied troops in 1945 Nuremberg ("Courage is no more than fear holding on a minute longer"). There are also newsreel clips of Hitler's hateful speeches, plus cutaways to the vicious young SS officer Klaus Barbie (Schweighofer), using torture and cold-blooded murder to crush the resistance. While a more specific point of view would have been much more involving, the film still features a number of heart-stopping sequences.

Eisenberg uses his charming, impish presence, chattering comically and performing mime, magic and physical slapstick. This may feel too deliberately warm and smiley for such a grim story, but the offhanded humour gives the film an earthy kick. Each of the costars has his or her moment to shine, offering solid texture to the story and some wrenching subtext. Poesy has the most memorable sequence, a bleakly harrowing event that shifts the tone significantly before the final act.

This is one of those finely crafted international co-productions adapting a true story for the widest audience possible with the help of starry casting, action beats and having French characters speak accented English (the Nazis speak German). This somewhat compromised approach makes the movie very watchable, but removes the nuance that might have brought these remarkable events to more vivid life. Marceau is an undisputed artistic icon, and it's important to remember that he was also a hero who helped save thousands of children from certain death.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Jun.20

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