It’s been a good year for fans of non-English dramas. With PBS Passport picking up the Walter’s Choice franchise, viewers have been #blessed with Italian thrillers, Scandi-noir... and “Résistance,” a series that tells the tale of French counteraction during World War II through the eyes of Lili Franchet, a fierce, aspirational female lead.
Résistance is now available for viewing on WGBH Passport.
In case you missed it, Walter’s Choice is a collection of non-English television series’ that Walter Iuzzolino — the titular Walter — considers to be the best on the market today. You can read more about Iuzzolino and the series here.
While Iuzzolino definitely has a type — most of his ‘choices’ are gritty noirs with tough, intelligent detectives — his selections do occasionally depart from form. One such departure is Résistance, a series that tells the story of the French Resistance during World War II. Elegantly filmed and cleverly plotted, Résistance is a thrilling tale, filled with action, intrigue, romance and tragedy.
Creator, Dan Franck, and writer, Alain Goldman, created a fictional main character, Lili Franchet, as a conceit to tell the wide-ranging tale of France in the 1940s. Through Franchet’s eyes, audiences experience the highs and lows of the Resistance, see how the French worked both for and against the Nazis, and gain a glimpse into the personal tragedies war brings to a people.
Franchet is everything you want in a character that is to serve as your avatar. Brave, quick thinking, almost anachronistically headstrong — but ultimately relatable. Franchet moves about the country to help wherever she is needed, working alongside and befriending actual historical figures of the French Resistance.
The series fulfills the promise of its title well, giving viewers admirable portraits of many of the actual men and women who pushed back against the Nazi threat. Simple actions, like the printing of subversive newspapers, make way for more morally complicated ones, like the hurling of Molotov cocktails. Meanwhile, their opposition grows more fierce as well, long-term jail sentences turning to firing squads and eventually, condemnation to Hitler’s “final solution.”
This may sound like a bleak look at a very dark moment in the history of humanity. But Résistance is so much more than that. Even as the Nazi threat and its violence on the screen grows in magnitude, so too do the moments of bravery, of patriotism, and of intrigue. Paying witness to the perseverance and triumphs of these historic characters is not just thrilling; it’s inspiring.
The series features many a moment that will resonate with audiences for their stark hope in a time of tragedy: a Jewish family visiting their son in prison, as he struggles to keep a positive face; a line of young men singing "La Marseillaise" as they face down a firing squad. And it doesn’t shy away from the emotional tolls of war, either, relating the many stories of families torn apart: parents or children taken from homes and off the street when their work with the Resistance was discovered. The series strives to deliver as much stark realism as it can for American television.
However, this isn’t just a well-written, character-driven drama. Technically refined, Résistance features some absolutely gorgeous lighting work. Each scene is lit immaculately, with soft, natural light coaxed into providing appropriate mood.
Another stand-out element of the series is the costuming and makeup that we see throughout, and is especially noticeable on Franchet. While the girl who starts the series is a young-looking innocent, over the course of the episodes we see her age, mature and develop gravitas — all through the exemplar hairstyling and delicate makeup put together by Odile Fourquin, Dorothée Soual and Florence Dupuis.
One note to make about Résistance is that the film unfolds through the narrower lens of the French Resistance, looking at an oft-unconsidered landscape of the war. While there are Jewish characters throughout the series, the larger Jewish and minority experience of the war is kept in the background, with the creators instead choosing to focus on the work of the Resistance and the people therein.
Overall, it’s a top series that delivers on multiple levels. If you are seeking a moving, beautiful, and rewarding tale of the French Resistance, and the Nazi Occupation of France, look no further.