Resistance (2003) Movie Review

Todd Komarnicki’s “Resistance” is a little-known 2003 movie that stars Bill Paxton (the guy from “Titanic”, not the guy from “Independence Day”) as an American World War II pilot who crashes in the Netherlands, where he is rescued by Maquis resistance fighter Henri (Philippe Volter) and cared for by Henri’s wife Claire (Julia Ormond). We are immediately informed that an estrangement exists between husband and wife when Henri, home from a Maquis meeting, is denied sex by his wife. Her excuse: Ted, the American pilot, is hiding in a secret room next to them, the entrance to which is the couple’s bedroom closet. Needless to say, when Ted and Claire begin developing feelings for one another, the War is the least of everyone’s worries.

Although it’s not anything you haven’t seen before, “Resistance” is nevertheless an interesting take on a familiar subject, if only because of its Dutch perspective (which, surprisingly, doesn’t really figure very much into the film). We’ve seen French Resistance fighter movies, American World War II spy movies, but we haven’t really seen one from the perspective of normal civilians thrust into clandestine warfare. This attitude of reluctant soldiers is most apparent when the Maquis overwhelmingly votes to allow the Nazis to capture an important Allied secret located in Ted’s downed bomber instead of retrieving it and risking Nazi retaliation. And by doing nothing, they put to risk the impending Allied invasion of Europe.

Soon, the War becomes less of a focus, and instead we turn our attention to the attraction between Ted and Claire. Is it real love? Spontaneous affection? Or maybe an avenue of escape for Claire, who seems to have little passion in her life besides carrying for the occasional wayward Allied soldiers that make their way to the Maquis. Not that Claire has very much at home, as Volter’s Henri is little more than a caricature of an unfulfilling husband. Henri’s one positive trait is that he did volunteer to join the Resistance, but even that is half-hearted as he seems unwilling to further victory, but is instead satisfied just to play the role.

But Henri and his fellow Maquis’ trading of risk for the status quo soon takes a tumble when someone in the Dutch village murders the German soldiers guarding the Allied secret. The Germans retaliate as expected, by rounding up suspected members of the Maquis and hanging them, forcing Henri and others Underground. This, of course, leaves Claire and Ted opportunities to pursue their affair, which they do. Although they are not alone. The film’s other main storyline is that of young Jean (Antoine Van Lierde), a Dutch boy whose father is a Nazi collaborator, a fact that stains the boy terribly, and makes a leper of him. It is Jean who finds Ted’s bloody body at the beginning of the film and rolls it, in his father’s wheelbarrow, to Claire’s door. Through him, we see the heaviest casualty of war — a father’s betrayal, and a mother’s weakness, has forced a boy to shoulder the burdens of redemption, and in doing so, stripping away all innocence.

Although the setting is very much World War II, “Resistance” is more comfortable as a love story. For much of the film’s middle, after the Dutch Resistance fighters have gone underground, the story is entirely that of Ted, Claire, and Jean as the trio attempts to live something approaching a normal life, forming a makeshift family within the narrow confines of Claire’s house. For a while, all three characters have their wish come true — Ted has found true love; Claire, a passionate man to share her bed; and Jean, a new family from which to start over. Inevitably, this family, too, will be torn asunder by the return intrusion of the Germans and World War II into their lives.

There are some nice performances in “Resistance”, led by the always beautiful Julia Ormond, who does a wonderful job as Claire. Ormond has never had trouble emoting with her eyes, and she delivers a complex, mature performance here. Bill Paxton doesn’t have much of a character to play, but neither do any of the grown men in the movie, who come across more like archetypes with singular traits than well-rounded characters. The script by director Todd Kormanicki, based on the novel by Anita Shreve, seems less interested in how Ted’s character evolves as it is assigning him the archetype of sensitive warrior, a passionate man who fights because he must.

The film’s other notable is young Antoine Van Lierde, who has quite possibly the film’s hardest and most emotional scenes, including a chilling moment when Jean witnesses the execution of suspected Maquis members. Via the Maquis intrigue, Kormanicki applies mystery and suspense to the film regarding the identity of the person who killed the Germans in order to safeguard the Allied secret and saving the coming invasion, and at the same time bringing retaliation on the Dutch townspeople. Alas, the film makes it very clear who did it even before the person’s true identity is revealed at the end, leaving the mystery not who did it, but why is was supposed to be such a mystery to the audience.

“Resistance” was made for 6 million Euros (about $7.8 million dollars), making it the most expensive film in Dutch history back in 2003. The investment proved a costly one, as the film’s theatrical run lasted for just one week. Who knows why the film didn’t do well. Surely, the filmmakers had cast the film well enough, and with a savvy eye toward international returns. In Paxton, they had a known American name, which, at the very least, would ensure profitable video store and cable returns in most English-speaking markets. While Ormond would, presumably, do likewise for the British markets. While no real data exists regarding the film’s profitability (or lack thereof) in the years since the film’s debut, “Resistance’s” mostly unknown status today would seem to lean towards the negative.

The above is unfortunate, as while it’s not an original or great World War II movie, “Resistance” is a well-made and well-acted love story. Ormond and young Van Lierde deliver excellent performances, and although the film doesn’t have the big-budget spectacle of a Hollywood World War II movie, it does have production value, and is most definitely not an amateurish production by any means. The film might be of most interest to fans of Julia Ormond, who is poised to make a comeback in 2008, with no less than three films. And also fans of Bill Paxton, who has found renewed success with the HBO comedy “Big Love”. I’m sure there are fans of these two actors who might not even know that the movie exists. I certainly didn’t, until I came across a European DVD import of “Resistance” a few months ago. Give it a try, you might end up liking it.

Todd Komarnicki (director) / Todd Komarnicki (screenplay), Anita Shreve (novel)
CAST: Bill Paxton …. Ted Brice
Julia Ormond …. Claire Daussois
Philippe Volter …. Henri Daussois
Sandrine Bonnaire …. Lucette Oomlop
Jean-Michel Vovk …. Anthoine
Antoine Van Lierde …. Jean Benoit

Buy Resistance on DVD