DUBAI: Before he directed “Resistance,” Jonathan Jakubowicz never thought he could make a movie about the Holocaust.
“It was too emotional for me,” Jakubowicz tells Arab News.
That all changed when the celebrated Argentinian director heard the story of Marcel Marceau. Marceau, one of the most famous entertainers of the 20th century, was a secret hero of the French Resistance during World War II, responsible for saving the lives of more than 100 children who would have been killed by the Nazis had he and his friends and family not intervened.
The story is not a famous one, despite Marceau’s stature in global pop culture. Marceau himself rarely told it before his death in 2007. To learn more, Jakubowicz travelled to Paris to meet Marceau’s cousin and fellow Resistance hero George Loinger, who was 106 years old at the time. He died aged 108 in December 2018.
“He told me a big part of what you see in the movie. He was the only person who was still alive from that experience. After that, I felt I couldn’t stop until I got the movie made and I got this story told,” Jakubowicz says. “It’s a unique forgotten story and it felt different from every World War II movie I’ve seen. There’s so many great ones, so if you find something that can really differentiate itself from all of those, as a filmmaker you can’t stop until you do it.”
“Resistance” may have similar themes to films released in the past such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993), but it is being released at a time when almost no one who lived through those atrocities is still alive to tell the tale. Because of that, the films that are now being released about the Holocaust, including last year’s Oscar-nominated “Jojo Rabbit” — a film Jakubowicz tells Arab News that he refuses to see — lose perspective.
“It’s becoming more comedic and cartoonish. I think that it’s never a good sign when you’re able to laugh about an event that is so important to remember in all its seriousness,’ says Jakubowicz. “It’s easy to assume everybody knows, but it’s just not the case.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the world, “Resistance” was set to make its regional debut at Jeddah’s now-delayed Red Sea International Film Festival, and would have become the first Holocaust film to screen in the Kingdom. Although that hasn’t yet happened, the mere fact that “Resistance” was chosen for the festival was an important milestone for Jakubowicz, and for the film.
“I was very moved when the Red Sea Festival invited us. It’s a huge step towards being able to coexist, and understand the past,” he says. “So much of the Middle East is given the wrong information. It’s inevitable to see hatred when people are taught hatred. It’s a huge privilege and a huge opportunity that this movie is able to reach audiences in the Middle East who maybe haven’t been exposed to this side of the story. I’m very grateful that it’s being released there and I hope many people watch it with an open mind and really hear what it says.”
Abdullah Yahya, a Saudi film critic for the film review website filmphoria.com, agreed.
“It is a great cultural shift toward a less-prejudiced mindset. I am glad we are no longer beholden to one narrative when it comes to history,” Yahya says.
Jakubowicz has been touched to see the positive reaction to the film’s recent video-on-demand release in the region, as well as the many moves that the Gulf is making to be more tolerant and inclusive of other cultures and stories.
“Sharing stories about each other is essential for peace. I’m very glad that things are moving in the right direction. The fact that there are official efforts to move in that direction is incredible news. I think things can be solved culturally more easily than people think, because at the end of the day, you only need one movie to move you in the right direction, to change your opinion. That’s the privilege that artists have, to enter into the emotional aspect of the audience to not only beat them with ideas but to simply tell a story,” he says.
“We all love a great story, and some of the greatest stories ever are from the Middle East, and there’s an incredible tradition of storytelling as a window to the heart of a people,” he continues. “It’s a great opportunity that we should all take. We should do everything we can to tell our stories whenever we are invited.”