Marcel Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg) became the world's most famous mime, but this film is the backstory.  In the 1930's, he was working in a butcher shop which his father owned, but his heart was not in that work.  What he really loved was the theater, and he was working on a script for a play, even painting all the backdrops himself in his spare time.  He had begun experimenting with Mime at a local cabaret, where he imitated the American silent film star, Charlie Chaplin.  His father the butcher thought all this was ridiculous;  it would never amount to anything.  But he was proud of his son for one thing:  he had a talent for entertaining the orphan children that the Jewish community had taken in, as refugees from Nazi Germany. 

            When Hitler invaded Poland, the stream of refugees increased, and the Jews in France were even more nervous about coming persecution, especially when the Germans quickly took Belgium Luxembourg.  France was at first divided into German-occupied North and Vichy South, but even that distinction soon fell away.  The Jews who remained in France were forced to wear yellow stars on their jackets, unaware that that would only be the initial indignity.  Some joined the Resistance, trying to sabatoge the hated Nazis all they could.  Marcel's particular talent was forging passports.  But as the Nazi oppression of Jews and other “undesirables” grew more oppressive, finally, Marcel decided to try to save as many children as he could, by taking them on a long hike through the Alps, across the border of Switzerland.

            Yes, the end is a bit reminiscent of “The Sound Of Music,” with the singing children heading for the hills, thwarting the commanding SS officer (this time, Klaus Barbie).  Marcel, during one of his Mime demonstrations, had taught the children how to hide in a tree by blending in silently.  That skill turned out to be useful, as their little group of refugees was almost captured in the Alpine forest.

            It's a grim movie, because the Nazi cruelty is real and evident.  But the Mime humor adds just enough levity to make it bearable.  There's a hint of romance, but the love here is not about a particular couple, but about one man's devotion to refugee children.  Marcel Marceau is said to have personally saved hundreds of orphans from certain extinction.  We hope those children grew up to raise families in peace.  And we also hope that the kind of unselfish devotion displayed by Marcel Marceau would now abound in a world suddenly wrapped in fear and uncertainty.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association