DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
FREE MEN (LES HOMMES LIBRES) (director: Ismael Ferroukhi; screenwriter: Alain-Michel Blanc; cinematographer: Jérôme Alméras; editor: Annette Dutertre; music: Armand Amar; cast: Tahar Rahim (Younes), Michael Lonsdale (Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit), Mahmud Shalaby (Salim Halali ), Lubna Azabal (Warba Shlimane alias Leila), Farid Larbi (Ali), Stéphane Rideau (Francis), Zakariya Gouram (Omar), François Delaive (Gestapo Chief), Christopher Buchholz (Nazi Major); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fabienne Vonier; Film Movement; 2011-France-in French/Arabic with English subtitles)

"For a change a film that casts Islam in a positive light."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Ismael Ferroukhi ("Le Grand Voyage") directs a fictionalized feelgood story about supposedly real characters participating in a little known actual event. They are colorful immigrant characters from North Africa who live in danger from informers, the Gestapo and the French immigration police, while fighting against colonization and fascism and calling for brotherhood. For a change a film that casts Islam in a positive light, whose religion is used to help all oppressed people--including a story line that shows the crafty mosque leader Ben Ghabrit (Michael Lonsdale) hiding Jews in his Paris mosque basement to avoid them being sent to concentration camps. Writer Alain-Michel Blanc shows that Algerian Muslims were willing to give their life to fight for the French resistance to liberate their country and help Jews elude the Nazis, as they believed a liberated France would liberate their North African colonies.

The pic is set in occupied Paris during WWII, from 1939 to 1944. It features a young Algerian immigrant named Younes (Tahar Rahim), brought to France by his union agitator older cousin Ali (Farid Larbi) to work in the same factory and who becomes a black marketeer when illness caused his dismissal at the factory. Younes is arrested in a neighborhood police sweep over union trouble and when caught with his black market goods is coerced by the French immigration police to spy on a mosque. Instead Younes joins the resistance, thanks to resistance leader Ali, and befriends unexpectedly an up-and-coming Jewish Algerian singer of traditional Algerian music named Salim (Mahmud Shalaby), who is posing as a Muslim so he can sing in nightclubs.

It would make for an inspirational human interest story if true, but the historical facts are that the Muslim community on the contrary was known to be hostile to the Jews and aided the Nazis in sending many Jews to the death camps. I hope the story inspired by a true story is indeed true, but unfortunately I found the film unconvincing, looking like a TV movie and the low-key acting never got me involved with the story. If the story is true and not as I suspect a work of  revisionist history then that changes the way I would rate the film, as it then becomes something substantial that could be used to help bridge the gap in modern times between Muslims, Jews and French patriots.

After this review was published, I received word from several reliable sources that the story was indeed true. For me that's important to know, as the movie now acts as an historical record and becomes an invaluable work that shows there's a possible chance to mend fences between the two bickering religious communities. I therefore changed my grade from a C+ to a B when concluding that the events in this film were indeed based on real-life occurrences.

REVIEWED ON 2/19/2012       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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