Future mime’s battle to thwart the Nazis

Jesse Eisenberg as Marcel Marceau in Resistance (Pantaleon Films)

By Richard Ades

There may be no performing artist who’s despised and ridiculed more than the mime. But maybe after seeing Resistance, people will start to give these silent storytellers the benefit of the doubt.

The World War II thriller focuses on that most famous mime of all time, Marcel Marceau, and reveals that he definitely had a story to tell, though he mostly kept to himself. It turns out that back when he was coming of age in occupied France, Marceau joined the Resistance and was instrumental in helping hundreds of Jewish children escape the Holocaust.

It’s a fascinating and unique story, despite the fact that writer/director Jonathan Jacubowicz fails to tell it in a manner that’s fascinating or unique—or even very believable.

True, we’re used to reality-based tales taking liberties with the facts in order to ramp up the drama (the bullet-riddled escape from Iran in Argo comes to mind). But Resistance is filled with so many clichés and cliffhangers that we start to doubt virtually everything we see. Just to take one: Did Marceau’s father, a butcher, really oppose his son’s desire to be an actor, or is that simply Jacubowicz’s attempt to add the kind of parent-child tension that invariably leads to a moving reconciliation?

Further feeding our doubts, the movie casts 36-year-old Jesse Eisenberg as Marceau, even though he was actually a teenager at the time. You may or may not feel Eisenberg is able to shed his usual persona and do a convincing job here (I’m not impressed), but it doesn’t help that the movie depicts Marceau as years older than he really was. You have to wonder what else is made up.

Another weakness: Despite focusing on someone who came to personify mime—a craft that calls on viewers to use their imagination—Resistance seems determined to spoon-feed us information.

Just in case we don’t know what the Holocaust was, the first scene shows a soon-to-be-orphaned Jewish girl (Bella Ramsey) asking her parents, “Why do they hate us?” And just in case we don’t know that the Nazis were evil, the film periodically cuts away from Marceau to show vicious Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer) methodically shooting, beating or torturing people. For the record, Barbie was a real-life monster, but Schweighofer’s version comes off as the kind of psychopathic sadist who could just as easily double as the villain in a run-of-the-mill melodrama.

Despite all these problems, the film does succeed on some levels. The cast—including Clemence Poesy as Marceau’s love interest and fellow Resistance fighter, Emma—is good enough to make us care about the people trying to survive and oppose the Nazis’ reign of terror. As a result, viewers who are able to overlook the film’s excesses will watch many scenes in a heightened state of tension.

But the film’s real value lies in its revelation of the heroism displayed by a well-known figure and many others in response to the 20th century’s greatest evil. It provides the kind of inspiration that’s welcome now that we need all the heroes we can find.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Resistance (rated R for bloodless but troubling violence) opens March 27 at VOD outlets.


Homage to silent performer is a bit too talkative

Sarah Ware as Bip in Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of There Is No Silence (photo by Matt Hazard)
Sarah Ware as Bip in Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of There Is No Silence (photo by Matt Hazard)

By Richard Ades

The title There Is No Silence is surprisingly accurate. Even though Ohio State’s original work is inspired by the life of renowned mime artist Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), there’s a whole lot of talking going on.

The show is only minutes old when we’re introduced to Trixie (Jane Elliott), a mime-in-training who can’t seem to keep her mouth shut. At times, she asks for suggestions from the viewers—for example, what should be on the other end of the invisible rope she’s about to pull. (“Me!” an enthusiastic little girl called from the audience on opening night.)

Trixie, who later reappears as a revised character named Marbles, is a lively and personable presence, but she’s too verbose to be an effective mime. It’s not clear why she’s given such a prominent role in an homage to the French master of silence.

However, the show’s main problem is its lack of focus, which is likely due to the number of hands involved in its creation. Conceived and directed by former Marceau student Jeanine Thompson, it also was “devised” by the MFA Acting Cohort and written by Jennifer Schlueter and Max D. Glenn. Add the technological input of the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, and it’s easy to understand why the production goes off in so many directions.

One minute it comes across as a classroom lecture, dutifully ticking off the now-obscure performers who inspired Marceau. At other times, it allows performers to expound at length about their own connections to the artist or his craft.

At still other times, the show delves into Marceau’s challenging relationships with his daughter, Aurelia (Camille Bullock), and collaborator/wife, Anne Sicco (Melonie Mazibuko). In fact, a fierce argument between Cousteau and Sicco ends Act 1—an odd choice, since viewers don’t know enough about the wife to care about the fight’s outcome.

Much more enlightening is an Act 2 historical section that details Marceau’s anti-Nazi activities during World War II. But the show is the most engrossing when its performers honor Marceau’s craft by showing off their own silent grace.

The most graceful of all is Sarah Ware, who captures the essence of Marceau’s stage alter ego, Bip. Another wordless (but musically accompanied) highlight is a dance performed by Aaron Michael Lopez, one of four men who take turns playing Marceau. (The others are Sifiso Mazibuko, Brent Ries and Patrick Wiabel.)

The ACCAD-aided sections, such as one in which the electronically produced outlines of Marceau and a live performer move in perfect unison, are technologically impressive. But our appreciation of Marceau is bolstered more by the segments that honor the mime in the most appropriate way: by showing just how expressive the silent human body can be.

Ohio State Theatre will present There Is No Silence through April 13 in the Thurber Theatre, Drake Performance Center, 1849 Cannon Drive. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20; $18 for faculty, staff, alumni association members and senior citizens; $15 for students and children. 614-292-2295 or theatre.osu.edu.