Most people who have heard of Marcel Marceau will know him as the famous
French mime artist, few, I imagine, will know that he was actually born
Marcel Mangel the son of a Jewish butcher, who, during World War II joined
the French Resistance and helped thousands of orphaned Jewish children
escape the clutches of the Nazis.
His story is told in writer and director Jonathan Jakubowiez’s new film
Beginning in 1938 just prior to the start of the war, Marcel Mangel, (Jesse
Eisenberg), as he was known then, is living in a town on the French/German
border. Wanting to be a famous clown, he performs in local theatres giving
impressions of Charlie Chaplin, Mangel is more interested in himself than
he is in helping others.
Mangel’s life changes when orphaned Jewish children arrive from Germany.
Put up in a local castle Mangel uses his clown routine to entertain the
children and distract them from the horrors that are going on around them.
As war is declared the children and Mangel are evacuated to the South of
After the South of France is overrun by the Nazis and the children’s
chances of survival diminish by the day Mangel, now called Marceau after he
doctors his passport, along with other members’ of the resistance decide
that they must get as many children out of France and to the safety of
Switzerland as they can.
Marceau’s life story is certainly one worth telling even if it’s slightly
flawed as is the case with Resistance. This is perhaps down to the casting
of Eisenberg who at no time looks comfortable in the role, his awkward
attempt at mime makes it difficult to believe that Marceau, as the caption
states at the end of the film, was to go on and become the greatest mime
artist the world had ever seen.
A story that involves rescuing children whose lives are in danger should
make you feel that the lives of the children are hanging in the balance,
with the exception of a few scenes, which come mostly towards the end and
stretch credibility, there’s very little tension throughout the film.
Whilst Eisenberg’s performance might be questionable Matthias Schweighofer
is great as the tyrannical and sadistic Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie as is
Clémence Poésy who plays Emma, a member of the resistance and the object of
An enjoyable if somewhat underwhelming watch.