Marcel Marceau from the film The Art of Silence
The Art Of Silence
a film by Maurizius Staerkle Drux
International Premiere at Hot Docs
Showtimes at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival:
Monday, May 2 – 2:45pm – Cineplex Varsity 8, Toronto
Sunday, May 8 – 8:30pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto
For 5 days beginning Tuesday, May 3, 9 AM – Canada-wide Online Streaming
Tickets and More Info Here
The father of modern mime, Marcel Marceau, believed in a world without words. “Laughing and crying belongs to all humans,” he says in Maurizius Staerkle Drux’s intimate and personal The Art of Silence, the first feature-length documentary about Marceau.
But the global call to quiet that was at the heart of his art and fame came from a dark place. The Art of Silence looks backwards and forwards in its examination of Marceau’s silent influence.
It begins with Marcel Mangel, a German child whose Jewish family fled to France in advance of the Nazis, and whose father ended up killed in Auschwitz. Changing his name to Marceau to evade the Gestapo, he joined the French resistance and dedicated himself to smuggling Jewish children over the Swiss border with his co-conspirator and cousin George (who, during filming, was still alive at 108).
Marceau, whom George remembers as “a little magical,” enjoyed entertaining children. A natural mime, he’d absorbed Charlie Chaplin movies and amused adults with Little Tramp impressions. As Marceau would say later, “Whoever saves a child saves humanity.”
The war would turn Marcel Marceau’s name from a “nom de guerre” into a stage name, after the military publication Stars & Stripes gave him global publicity. It would also colour the creation of his signature character Bip, who “dreams of a better world,” and whose “March of Humanity” sketch featured him being gunned down and standing up again proudly.
The following 40 years of live performance would affect countless people – including Christoph Staerkle, the director’s deaf father, for whom a Marceau performance would be a life-changing revelation. “Kindness, tears, joy, it’s all perceptible without sound,” says Staerkle, who could carve a mime career of his own.
This personal stake in the influence of the greatest mime led Drux to look outward to Marceau’s effect on others, up to and after his death in 2007. In The Art of Silence, we meet Rob Mermin, a sometime student of Marceau’s mime school, who’s battled Parkinson’s disease with control-of-movement techniques he’d learned, and who’s taught that technique to other Parkinson’s patients.
And, with remarkable access and the cooperation of Marceau’s family, we meet the man and glimpse the future. We see the preliminary production of a tribute show, directed by Marceau’s widow Anne Sicco, with contributions by her daughters Camille and Aurélia and her teen grandson Louis Chevalier. Chevalier – almost a doppelganger for his grandfather – struggles with his legacy as he follows a dance career at an academy in Toulouse.
“Having grown up with a deaf father, from an early age, my visual attention was greatly nurtured, because my life sometimes resembled a silent movie,” says director Drux.
“With The Art of Silence, I reflect on a part of my own life story. I go beyond what is hidden behind Bip’s white mask. Where does Marcel Marceau’s artistic legacy stand within a contemporary perspective and how are his descendants dealing with it?
“While making this film, I spent time with the Marceau family, but also with friends and companions who have carried on Marceau’s art form in their own way. I came to realize what they have in common: They all draw their art from silence. And they all found the strength to use it to change their lives.”