Venezuelan writer and director Jonathan Jakubowicz presents an untold WWII story through the lens of a biopic with Resistance. The plot centres around aspiring mime artist Marcel (Jesse Eisenberg) who joins his brother Alain (Félix Moati) and friend Emma (Clémence Poésy) in the French Resistance. With sadistic Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer) hunting them down, they attempt to escort a group of orphans from Nazi-occupied France across the border to safety.
This is very much a film of two halves in terms of the tone and style of the storytelling. On one hand, we have the interesting arc of the young Jewish protagonist who works with his father at the family business, but moonlights on stage in the evenings with Charlie Chaplin inspired artistry. On the other, there are the atrocities of war developing around him, and this narrative takes over to the point that it threatens to side-line the central character completely. While both elements work perfectly fine their own right, Jakubowicz’s script never quite strikes the necessary balance between the two.
Despite being twenty years older than Marcel Marceau actually was during the war, Jesse Eisenberg is well cast in the lead role. He has the expressive, goofy qualities required for the part but unfortunately, it’s as if he’s been air-dropped in from another movie. His romantic subplot with Poésy’s freedom fighting Emma feels unnatural and forced, and it becomes quite uncomfortable viewing to see him offer respite to utterly traumatised kids with whimsical trickery. In the villainous role, Schweighöfer appears to strive for a performance like Christoph Waltz’s Oscar-winning turn as Hans Landa in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but Klaus Barbie is too cartoonish in comparison to those around him and it comes across as overacting.
Within the saturated war movie sub-genre, Jakubowicz succeeds in bringing a unique and inspiring tale of courage and bravery to the big screen. However, this depiction struggles to handle the various moving parts of the story effectively, lacking the nuance and skill that Marcel Marceau went onto become so well known for.