The Art of Silence @ Hot Docs

The international premiere of the documentary by Maurizius Staerkle Drux, which, despite what its title would lead you to believe, has plenty to say. The film is a Switzerland/Germany co-production.

Hard to believe that this is the first film about legendary pantomime artist Marcel Marceau’s life. Recently we have seen how stand up comedians’ lives are not filled with smiles and laughter as you would expect. Instead, their chosen profession is used to deal with the pain they are trying to hide. Such, as is revealed in the doc, is the case with Marceau. For him, pantomime was his way of dealing with his tragic history. Though many watched him with smiles on their face and warmth in their hearts, Marceau was a man with a tormented soul.

For decades, Marcel Marceau entertained people with his talent for pantomime. The world-famous mime could with just facial expressions and movements of his body convey a wealth of emotion and any story you can think of. He was most famous for bringing to life the character Bip the Clown. Despite the fact that Marceau died at the age of 84 in 2007 in Cahors, France, his art and talent have been kept alive by both friends and family.

We learn a lot about Marceau here that was not previously widely known. A true look into who the man was at his very core. Not just the figure he presented to the world. As a young Jewish man he had lived in hiding during World War II and also worked with the French Resistance. The family, like many other Jewish families, endured tragedy as his mother and father were captured by the Gestapo and while his mother survived, his father died in Auschwitz.

Along with his brother, the two risked their own lives in order to rescue many children from both being shipped off to concentration camps and from them once there. During the liberation of France, he joined the French army.

What emerged from all that he endured and saw, was a complex figure. Though known to be a sensitive and compassionate human, Marceau was certainly marked by his wartime experiences.

The film plays like a tribute to the man and the artist. He was obviously loved by those who saw him perform or watch his film as well as those who genuinely knew him. What comes shining through is the impact he made on people. Probably none more so than Christoph Staerkle (the father of the director of the film), a well known mime from Switzerland who was born deaf. It is very touching when he describes how Marceau’s work opened up and changed the world for him. Or when another student of Marceau’s who has Parkinson’s how after seeing Marceau and turning to mime himself that his own movement improved. What emerges is not just an artist, but a human who changed people’s lives.