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Published On:16 April 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

FILM REVIEW: 'Free Men': a little-known WWII story of Muslims helping Jews

"Free Men," a canny thriller, tells the little-known story of a Paris mosque that helped North African Jews during World War II.


By Michael Upchurch


'Free Men,' with Tahar Rahim, Michael Lonsdale, Mahmoud Shalaby. Directed by Ismaël Ferroukhi, from a screenplay by Ferroukhi and Alain-Michel Blanc. 99 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.


What happened to Algerians who had the bad luck to immigrate to Paris just before the Nazis invaded?


"Free Men," a French film by a Moroccan director, answers that question in the form of a cannily shot thriller.


Based on the true story of a Paris mosque that saved North African Jews by providing them with documents saying they were Muslim, it focuses on two Algerians who at first have trouble considering this war their own.


Younes (Tahar Rahim) is a semiliterate Muslim black marketeer who's in France for one purpose only: "To make my pile and go home." Salim Halali (Mahmoud Shalaby) is a singer enjoying his first success in Paris and determined to build on it, despite having a secret or two that puts his life in danger.


When Younes runs into trouble with the authorities, he's blackmailed into spying on the mosque — which he does so ineptly that its rector, Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit (Michael Lonsdale), soon takes him under his wing.


Halali and Ben Ghabrit were real-life characters, but Younes is the fictional creation of director Ismaël Ferroukhi and his co-scriptwriter, Alain-Michel Blanc. As portrayed by Rahim, he's a fascinatingly unformed soul. If his character has any spine, he doesn't know it. Only when he's pressed into a corner is he forced to act.


Lonsdale's Ben Ghabrit is his total opposite: knowing, subtle, unreadable when need be (he has a firm yet elusive way with visiting Nazis) and the perfect counterweight to Younes. Shalaby's Halali is a third kind of creature: talented, wayward, vain, determined that the war won't disrupt his career.


Occupied Paris, as evoked by Ferroukhi, is an unsettling mix of life-as-usual and sudden moments of terror — sometimes caught in the same shot. The final key ingredient in this splendidly acted story is the music: both Halali's seductive Arabic-Andalusian numbers and Armand Amar's North-African- flavored score.


(Courtesy: The Seattle Times)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on April 16, 2012. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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