With apologies for my title to this week’s CANNES FILM FESTIVAL in France and The Museum of The Moving Image’s James CAAN FILM FEST in Astoria/Queens, NY, … news arrives that actor Jesse Eisenberg will star as mime Marcel Marceau in “RESISTANCE,” a WWII drama about Marceau’s fight against the Nazis.
Eisenberg, the son of a professional clown, will learn mime for his role. During the 1940’s, Marcel Marceau, the son of a kosher butcher in Strasbourg, France, was named Marcel Mangel. The performer helped fight Germany via the French resistance. His father and other members of his his family were murdered at Auschwitz. Jonathan Jakubowicz has written the screenplay and will direct the film; Claudine Jakubowicz and Carlos Garcia de Paredes will produce.
Baptiste Marceau is the Executive Producer.
Marceau was honored by many awards during his lifetime. He also received the Raoul Wallenberg Medal. Of his work during WWII, Marceau said that he didn’t like to speak about himself because what he “did humbly during the war was only a small part of what happened to heroes who died through their deeds in times of danger. Think about the American G.I.s when they were at Normandy and were killed terribly before they reached France.”
He said, “It is true that I saved children, bringing them to the border in Switzerland. I forged identity cards with my brother when it was very dangerous because you could be arrested if you were in the underground. I also forged papers, not to save only Jews, and children, but to save Gentiles and Jews, especially Gentiles because there was a law in Vichy-occupied France — to send the young French men, who were eighteen, nineteen years old, to factories in Germany to work for the German Army. And then I had an idea to bribe the officials, and make people look much younger in their photos. I was born in Strasbourg on the Rhine and when the war was declared in September 1939 all Strasbourg had to be emptied by the French government to save the people because we were on the border between Germany and France. Then we were sent to Perigord in the south of France. I was sixteen years old. At eighteen I entered the underground at the same time that I was in Limoges at art school because I wanted to be a painter. At the same time I knew that I loved the theater. I had seen the films of Chaplin and I remember, even in my childhood I imitated Chaplin when I was twelve years old. And even when the war had broken out, before I knew that Chaplin would do a film on Hitler called The Great Dictator, I put on a moustache and I mimed Chaplin hearing a discourse by Adolf Hitler and already made a parody about Hitler. The parody, unfortunately, became a nightmare. When you are very young you cannot imagine what will be your destiny. And this is why, before Paris was liberated, I was hidden by my cousin Georges Loinger who was a heroic Resistance fighter. He said, ‘Marcel must hide for a while. He will play an important part in the theater after the war.’ How did he know that? Because he knew that when I was a child I created a theater for children already. And then for two months I was hidden by a wonderful woman who hid in her institute during the wartime ninety children who were Jewish among one hundred Gentile children, side by side. If somebody would have gone to the Gestapo or the French Militia, who were fascists, everybody would have been deported.”
He continued, “It’s like the film that Louis Malle did, Au Revoir, Les Enfants, about a priest who saved a young Jewish child and was deported. I think you saw that film. Paris was liberated after the Americans entered Paris in August, but the war wasn’t finished. But before that, two months before the liberation of France, I entered a famous theater school and then a master of mime, E. Decroux, said to the young students, Who wants a part?” And I said I. And I mimed the killer. And the killer was a Nazi, but of course I didn’t say Nazi,” I performed the killer. After that my master asked What is your name?” I said Marcel Marceau.” He said, That’s a beautiful name.” Marceau was a general of the French Revolution at the time when Napoleon was fighting in Italy. And then I remembered that Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Misérables, in one of his poems praised General Marceau on the Rhine, and I was born in Strasbourg on the Rhine and this is why when I got my false card that my brother made and he asked me How will you be named? You have to have M. M. It is dangerous to take other initials,” I said Marceau.” But I never told anyone my real name because we were like in a foreign legion, nobody had to know the past. It was very dangerous to talk about your life. This is also why in December 1944 I engaged myself in the first French Army side by side with American G.I.s. When I was demobilized in 1946, I started my career. But before that something very interesting happened. In 1945 I spoke English, I don’t say American, I say English. At that time I never had been in America. We were already at peace in December 1945, but we were still mobilized. I went to Frankfurt where there was the 6th Army of General Patton and I met Captain Parker. Still when I go to America today I think about Captain Parker. He said to me, Young man, what will you do later?” I said, Pantomime.” What is pantomime?” You know Chaplin, Keaton, I want to make theater without speaking.” Could you show me something?” Yes.” And I did the walking against the wind, the stairs, the tug of war, and a Japanese pantomime, and he said, Why don’t you entertain our G.I.s under the tents? There are 3,000 people.” I said, Of course, it is a great honor.” I played for the G.I.s and two days later I had my first review in the Stars and Stripes which was the paper of the American troops…. Destiny permitted me to live. This is why I have to bring hope to people who struggle in the world and in my art I will bring dreams and did Bip and the Butterfly.” The butterfly has a very important meaning. When I played this little drama, I killed the butterfly like children sometimes kill flies. And, sadly, I had another butterfly, which I put in my pouch, and that butterfly died. Then I took another butterfly and it flew away to freedom. The people were moved. Why? Because sometimes the public has genius. They associated this with the human heart, like flamenco dancers when the men were beating in rhythm on their chest. It’s a beating of the heart. This is why in my evolution I did David & Goliath…”