What Scorsese Told Me

Resistance writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz recalls the transformative advice he received from his favorite filmmaker.

The week we started preproduction on my previous movie Hands of Stone, I went to Robert De Niro’s birthday celebration, where he sat me at a table with my all-time hero, Martin Scorsese, and told him to give me advice. This is what I recall him saying:

“There comes a time in every movie when the spirit of the character and their story becomes part of the process of making the film. And your ability to embrace what that character is telling you is what’s going to define the movie you end up making.”

I looked at him, puzzled, wondering if he had suddenly become a New Age guru. As I remember it, here’s what he said next:

“When I was directing The Last Temptation of Christ, I kept feeling I didn’t have enough money to make it, and I was mad at myself for accepting such difficult conditions in order to make the movie. But after a few days, as the shoot progressed and I kept watching Jesus and his austerity, I couldn’t help but feel that he was teaching me everything he wanted to teach me, through the experience of telling his story with nothing but passion. It was the toughest shoot of my life, but when it was done, I realized there was no better way to make that movie. And when I look back now, I realize that the same thing happened to me on almost every movie. On Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino, I could go through specific experiences and show you how they taught me the same thing the characters learned on their journeys. And that would be my only advice: Listen to the characters when they are talking to you. The thing that is making it look impossible for your vision to happen, is the very spirit of the character speaking. If you embrace it and you stop complaining, you’ll make a wonderful film. Because, in the end, all you are doing is channeling a person, and that person’s life philosophy can teach the world through your art.”

Jesse Eisenberg as Marcel Marceau in Resistance

I just finished my latest feature, Resistance, a movie inspired by the story of a group of civilians who defied the Nazis to save lives. One of them is a young artist. He still doesn’t know if he wants to be a painter, an actor or a mime. He is trying to find his path when the war begins and he’s forced to scratch all his plans. Then his cousin invites him to use pantomime to entertain orphaned children whose parents have been killed by Nazis. And what we witness thereafter is how the events which he thinks are making it impossible for him to fulfill his dreams, are actually the ones that will turn him into one of the most acclaimed artists of the 20th century: Marcel Marceau.

When I started working with Jesse Eisenberg on Resistance, I invited him to put himself in Marcel’s shoes as a fellow creator. I told him that I myself would have likely been selfish about being in Marceau’s situation, asking myself, Why is this war happening to me? If I’m in the midst of discovering my path, deepening my knowledge and perfecting my craft, why am I being put in a position where I’m forced to stop everything so I can escape, so I can save myself and others?

What makes Marceau’s epic story unforgettable is that he and his fellow heroes did not flinch, but embraced their situation. Any of us could claim to be willing to risk our lives to save others, but Marceau and his comrades actually did it, in a moment when trying to save only yourself was already heroic enough.

Jonathan Jakubowicz (center) during the filming of Resistance.

I could spend many pages detailing the infinite challenges that reminded me of Scorsese’s words while making this film. But the definitive challenge came just a few week or so ago … When the current pandemic started closing some of the theaters in which Resistance was meant to play, I caught myself wondering, Why is this happening to me? The very same question I invited Jesse to imagine asking himself in order to understand Marcel’s journey …

The spirit of Resistance is finding beauty in the presence of absolute evil. It’s finding joy, love, friendship and salvation in the worst imaginable circumstances. But for us, it was also embracing the defeats and the challenges of the journey, not only because they made us stronger but mostly because, in Scorsese’s words, they took us on the journey our character wanted us to take.

Marcel Marceau toured the world for decades with the most minimal of set design. It was just him, his white face and a stage. We needed more than that to make Resistance, and every filmmaker wants theaters to be open so he can show his film on the big screen. But a movie about survival as an act of resistance can be a beautiful gift to the world in this moment of despair. And the fact that Resistance will be released on every platform to a nation in quarantine, can’t help but make me feel there’s a major force deciding its fate. Perhaps Scorsese’s words not only apply to the creation of a movie, but also to the moment and manner of its release.

Jonathan Jakubowicz is the director, writer and producer of Resistance, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Ed Harris, Clémence Poésy and Edgar Ramírez, which is out March 27 through IFC Films. It tells the story of how Marcel Mangel, an aspiring Jewish actor later known as Marcel Marceau, joined the French Resistance to save the lives of thousands of children orphaned at the hands of the Nazis. Jakubowicz is Venezuela’s most celebrated filmmaker and writer, and in 2005 his debut feature Secuestro Express, became Venezuela’s highest-grossing film, eclipsing such movies as Titanic. His second feature, Hands of Stone (2016), about the relationship between Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez) and his trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and released theatrically worldwide. In November 2016, Jakubowicz published his first novel, Las Aventuras de Juan Planchard, which immediately became a best-seller in the Spanish language market and it is on its way to become the highest selling book of all time for a Venezuelan author. Jakubowicz is of Polish Jewish descent. He has a BA in Communications from the Universidad Central de Venezuela.