Tag Archives: World War II

Resistance

31 Mar

‘Resistance’: You know mime Marcel Marceau, but this is when clowning stopped to kill Nazis

 

Resistance

Many know Marcel Marceau as one of the greatest mimes who lived, but he also was also part of the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France, helping hundreds of orphaned, mostly Jewish children escape to Switzerland. His father was Jewish and as the film “Resistance” has it, none too keen of his son wanting to be like Charlie Chaplin, calling him “a useless bum who wants to be a clown but has the muscles of a ghost.” His father, a butcher, would end up being put to death in a concentration camp, and Marcel would change his last name as he and his brother joined the fight.

Jonathan Jakubowicz’s self-important film is framed with Gen. George S. Patton (Ed Harris) citing Marcel (Jesse Eisenberg) for his heroics to a crowd of U.S. soldiers after the liberation of France. It’s an awkward, out-of-place device – as is much of the film awkward. Harris, normally dead-on in his male bravado, is a mouse stepping into George C. Scott’s shoes, and Eisenberg, while game, struggles with the subtlety of mime and the nuance of an actor feigning composure under the masochistic boot of Klaus Barbie (a scene-chewing Matthias Schweighöfer, a pleasing, malevolent distraction) trying to shake down an escape plot. The film’s told with a Holocaust thriller edge, yet it never quite thrills nor enlightens, especially given the rich historical material at hand.

Just what drives Marcel – or Jakubowicz’s plot – is hard to say. He’s so enamored with Chaplin and breaking out as a performer, it’s hard to know if protecting children or a way of life is more important. Then there’s the sullen but determined Emma (French actress Clémence Poésy), who’s in on the cause and a romantic interest; many of these seeds never fully sprout, leaving the realization of Marceau and his legacy as something of a muddled miss.

Jakubowicz’s choice of title is austere but irrelevant. Yes, Marceau served in the Resistance, but the movement and his time in it are not the film’s major thrust, making it another aspect of the film that raises more questions than it ever answers. One of the very best films (if I may suggest) about the French Resistance is Jean-Pierre Melville’s dark and daunting “Army of Shadows” (1968). Due to the famous May 1968 civil rebellion against the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, the film, with its favorable portrayal of de Gaulle, was not widely embraced; it didn’t get a theatrical release in the United States until 2007. It’s well worth seeking out.

Jojo Rabbit

26 Oct

‘Jojo Rabbit’: Hitler Youth’s imaginary friend, true enemy battle for territory in his affections

 

Image result for jojo rabbit

“Jojo Rabbit” is something you’re not likely prepared to see – and that’s a good thing. The best way I can lay it down: It’s as if Wes Anderson did Hitler. That’s accurate but not entirely fair, because it’s written and directed by by Taika Waititi, a creative stylist in his own right with the vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” (2014) and the grand uber-hero crackup, “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) – probably the only Marvel film Scorsese and Coppola might tolerate – to his credits. “Jojo Rabbit” takes place in Germany on the eve of major turns at the end of the war, and Hitler, played with grand, goofy gaiety and menace by Waititi himself, factors large into the dark satire about a 10-year-old boy coming of age during complicated times (to put it mildly).

We catch up with Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) as he heads off to a Hitler Youth boot camp for a weekend. He’s a proud loyalist and, because dad’s gone missing, his male surrogate is the führer himself. Talk about an unholy and unhealthy imaginary friend, but Waititi, who is half Maori and half Jewish, plays the part with a deft, humorous touch, giving Hitler a warm, avuncular sheen while not letting him off the hook for, well, everything.

The leporine tag of the title comes from that boot camp, where the undersized Jojo botches a test of manhood and is tagged a “scared little rabbit.” The best part about the camp is that we get Sam Rockwell as a snarky, demoted officer running things and Rebel Wilson as his chortling assistant – “Get your things together, kids, it’s time to burn some books!” Back at home, Jojo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t quite share her son’s all-things-Aryan zeal. Then there’s that someone hiding in the walls: Turns out mom and dad are anti-Nazi propagandists, and the older girl living in a secret compartment upstairs is Jewish, and being sheltered by mom. Jojo discovers Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) and begins to study her (keeping a science journal detailing “the Jewish beast,” which, while shocking and telling, also becomes a major turning point in the film). As the interviews progress, a friendship begins to take seed. They never let Rosie know that Jojo knows, but in passing Jojo tells his pal Yorki (Archie Yates, whose round-faced exuberance makes him an infectious scene stealer) he’s “captured one,” and even Rockwell’s officer. But no one really believes him or cares, as the Third Reich has begun to crumble.

Beyond the wide-eyed  transformation of its young protagonist, the heart and humanity of “Jojo Rabbit” radiates through its women. Since she’s donned Lycra in the Marvel Universe and teamed up for freaky times with Luc Besson (“Lucy”), filmgoers might have forgotten ScarJo’s emotive resonate from past immersions into nuanced roles of cold alien bait (“Under the Skin”) or a dislocated American in Japan (“Lost in Translation”). She carries the part of a conflicted mother fully. You know her Rosie detests sending her son off to boot camp, but does so not only because of the bigger forces at play, but because she’s an adoring mother trying to support her progeny as best she can. McKenzie, who gave such a mature and central performance in the off-the-grid drama “Leave No Trace” (2017), ups her stock here. Her character’s somber reflectiveness and innate compassion go a long way in disarming Jojo’s regime-first reactiveness. The scenes of the two communicating indirectly while connecting on a personal level build subtly and effectively, offsetting the mad world outside.

I’m not sure if there’s such adroit, slapstick skewering in “Caging Skies,” the book by Christin Leunens on which the film is based, but in Waititi’s World War II universe, shouts of “Heil Hitler” – initially shocking – ultimately become something of a comic refrain, like, say, in a Mel Brooks movie, and Rockwell, Wilson and Waititi play their deplorables with over-the-top, nod-and-wink perfection. The material is equal parts grim and hysterical (especially the debate over which of the Allied forces are worse to humans and dogs – Americans, Russians or the British), and folk will likely seize on comparisons with “The Death of Stalin” (2017) due to the era, comedic style and subject. It’s only natural, but “Jojo Rabbit” delivers a palpable human story that touches as we laugh and the world around explodes. And somehow David Bowie and the Beatles find their way in.

Fury

14 Oct
<i>Fury</i>

War is hell, a tried and true axiom that gets personified to the nth degree in David Ayer’s World War II epic, Fury, about a tank crew who utter a book full of cliches and live out religious allegories while quoting the Gospel. Ayer, who wrote Training Day and directed such smash-mouth dramas as Harsh Times and End of Watch, has his nose deep in male bravado and testosterone bondsmanship. The scribe-turned-helmsman could probably learn a thing or two from Paul Schrader, who penned Taxi Driver but had mixed success transitioning to the director’s seat with the likes of American Gigolo, Cat People and Light Sleeper. Schrader however, was interested in character-driven stories, whereas Ayer seeks to drop vestiges of square-jawed manliness in chaotic hell often punctuated by hyper violence. Sam Peckinpah had it covered from both sides, and the fact that he did, and that many have attempted to emulate his style and resonance, and failed, only strengthens the testimony of his unbridled cinematic genius.

Right from the get-go, Ayer lets us know that this isn’t the clean, moral war captured on black and white back in the ’40s and ’50s, but something darker and more complex. Coming across a bomb-blasted field of American tank carcasses, an SS officer on a white horse checks the carnage to make sure there are no survivors. For something to be alive doesn’t seem possible, but springing from atop one steel beast is Brad Pitt, who quickly puts a knife blade through the officer’s occipital brow and then unsaddles the horse and allows it to go free—a metaphor for the freeing of white Europe by the grubby Americans?   Continue reading