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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Survival and Honor in Time of War
IsmaŽl Ferroukhi both wrote (with Alain-Michel Blanc) and directed this emotionally charged story based on fact and peppered with real and fictitious characters to drive home the point of the film - that differences among peoples become erased in response to a common enemy. This is a powerful little film made more radiant because of the brilliant cast.

In...
Published on October 26, 2012 by Grady Harp

versus
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history, lackluster film
Certainly interesting, but rarely involving. A story of Muslims in Paris during the German occupation; some of whom are collaborators, some of whom are part of the Resistance, most of whom fall somewhere between. Unfortunately a great deal of the important action occurs off-screen creating more distance from the characters than is good for the movie. Things do get lively...
Published on February 14, 2012 by Michael Harbour


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Survival and Honor in Time of War, October 26, 2012
By 
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
IsmaŽl Ferroukhi both wrote (with Alain-Michel Blanc) and directed this emotionally charged story based on fact and peppered with real and fictitious characters to drive home the point of the film - that differences among peoples become erased in response to a common enemy. This is a powerful little film made more radiant because of the brilliant cast.

In German occupied Paris in WW II there is a segment of Algerian and Moroccan immigrants who survive on the fringes largely due to people like the unemployed Younes (the handsome and gifted French actor of Algerian origin Tahir Rahim) who runs a black market selling cigarettes, tea, coffee and food to his fellow Algerians - until he is caught by the police. Instead to going to prison he is set up to spy on the Paris Mosque, thought by the police to be center for the Mosque authorities, including its rector Ben Ghabrit (Michael Lonsdale) of aiding Muslim Resistance agents and helping North African Jews by giving them false certificates. At the Mosque, Younes meets the Algerian singer Salim Halali (Mahmud Shalaby), and is moved by Salim's beautiful voice and strong personality. When Younes discovers that Salim is Jewish, he stops collaborating with the police and gradually transforms from a politically ignorant immigrant black marketeer into a fully-fledged freedom fighter. It is this friendship between Younes and Salim that shapes the changes in Younes character, allowing him to move form a non-political opportunist to a committed freedom fighter.

There are many side stories that occur - the influence of the Gestapo, the presence of the mysterious Leila (the profoundly gifted and beautiful Lubna Azabal), Vichy collaborators, Muslims, Jews, Christians, resistance fighters, communists, spies, snitches, fugitives, traitors, criminals, children and innocents - with the theme of discovered camaraderie emerging slowly but surely. This is an inspired film that opens windows to parts of WW II history little known to the general public, and at films end the history of the post war activities of those character who are real is revealed, with `Younes' being described as the general representative of all the Algerian and Jewish immigrants. The score is filled with the singing of Salim/Mahmud Shalaby that adds a definite feeling of authenticity to the film. In French and Arabic with English subtitles. Grady Harp, October 12
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new reading of the 2nd world war with a solid performance of Tahar Rahim, June 6, 2012
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
Amazing! I was deeply moved by this film that I found very humane and brave.
Free Men observes the 2nd World War through a unique but optimistic lens, highlighting the solidarity between Arabs and Jews. The acting is great, especially with Tahar Rahim's stunning performance, and the music adds to the intelligence and sensibility of the film. I highly recommend Free Men to viewers who enjoy great acting and an unconventional story.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonder to Watch, April 5, 2012
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
We've all seen World War II films, heard about the war and the Holocaust, read the history books, but what Free Men is, is unique. It's an adapted version of true events about the people who turned around to help Jews during the war, and in German-occupied Paris. It gives credit to those who stuck their necks out to fight for freedom despite religion, culture, and the danger of it all. It's a testament to humanity, where director IsmaŽl Ferroukhi really put his best foot forward, and then ran a mile. And you have to watch Tahar Rahim give such a strong performance.

It's culturally interesting and gets your heart going in more ways than one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coming of age story of an Algerian petty criminal turned resistance fighter, January 20, 2014
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
Taking place in Nazi occupied Paris in WWII, the Algerian film Free Men an astounding coming of age story of a young Algerian Muslim petty criminal transformation from a selfish survivor into a heroic resistance fighter...a well worth journey watching.

What's astounding about this film and a great revelation it is that in total contrast to the violence and hatred existing between two great people, Jews and Muslims who for 400 years co-existed in Spain and are now killing each other thanks to Western business interests seeking to keep them apart, this film which is inspired by true events tells a different story, a time when Muslim and Jew were brothers fighting common enemies, Nazis and their brutal French Vichy allies.

Caught by the French Vichy Police, our petty criminal Younes is given a choice, be thrown into prison where he will be tortured and is likely to die, or spy on the local mosque Imam suspected of helping Jews and Communists escape.

Observing who comes and who goes, befriending Salim Halali, a young Algerian-Jewish singer (who later gained fame in France), falling in love with an Algerian woman, Younes learns that the imam indeed is helping Jews escape, saving Halali's life, but failing to save the Algerian woman he had fallen in love with, a Communist murdered by the Nazis. The heartbreak changes Younes.

A wonderful, suspenseful film giving one hope that perhaps there will come a day when Jew & Muslim can be at peace again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing, If Somewhat Aloof, Character Study Of A Reluctant World War II Hero, September 29, 2012
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
There's a terrific and powerful story at the heart of Ismael Ferroukhi's "Free Men," one that should have had the ability to really connect at an emotional and visceral level. Set in German-occupied Paris during World War II, the screenplay tells the classic tale of a reluctant hero. In this case, though, that hero is an opportunistic Algerian immigrant making whatever compromises he needs to in order to survive. It's an interesting perspective to see the ever-increasing horrors from a Muslim vantage point. A Paris Mosque is one of the bases for the resistance, but our protagonist has very little connection to any side but himself. When ensnared by the police, he agrees to turn informant. But as he gets closer to the situation and to those that trust him, he becomes more invested in a bigger picture of justice. This is a personal story that could be played on an epic scale, but Ferroukhi keeps things more contained and restrained throughout. I liked this dignified approach, but it also made the central character strangely aloof. That, in the end, keeps "Free Men" from being the great film it had the potential to be.

Tahar Rahim (so good in "A Prophet") plays the central character. Beginning as an exploitative black market vendor, his character arc is truly remarkable as he morphs into a full fledged freedom fighter. It's in some of the details that things get a bit murky. He befriends a popular Jewish singer and this is one of the initializing steps to his amazing (but refreshingly subtle) transformation. He seems, at times, to idol worship the cavalier style and free spirit of his new friend. But aside from partying a bit, the two have little to share with one another. It's a tenuous connection at best, but I guess it's enough to make Rahim realize that his actions have repercussions. The two actors play off one another very well. They make for an intriguing pair although this "friendship" remains somewhat enigmatic. More successful, for me, was Rahim's burgeoning relationship with the Mosque's rector. As he grapples with weighty moral decisions, the rector seems to be the only one to really connect with the young man. There is also a small romantic side plot, but it only exists to service the narrative (it is underexplored and introduced only so that her fate will add even more drama) as opposed to feeling like an organic part of Rahim's journey.

In the end, "Free Men" is a movie that spoke more to my head than to my heart. It's screenplay kept me at a distance throughout. I didn't want to stay on the sidelines, though, I wanted to experience the harrowing subject matter in my gut. Rahim, however, is fascinating to watch throughout. Talking about an emotional punch, the Bonus Short Film on the DVD is "Lustig." This 17 minute feature by John Frances Black II deals with survivor's guilt in the aftermath of the war. As a concentration camp victim sojourns to the families of those that didn't escape the war alive, he has quite a tale to tell. Simple, not wholly unexpected, but incredibly resonant, this brief experience is surprisingly moving and effective. KGHarris, 9/12.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wartime Paris, and unlikely friendships form, August 9, 2012
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This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
This wartime French-language drama freely mixes actual people and events with a fictional narrative, about Younes, a young Algerian man scratching a living in Nazi-occupied Paris. Free Men follows a conventional narrative, exploring Younes' rite of passage from naÔve, self-interested youth towards a manhood honed by the relentless impact of the Gestapo jackboot on the people around him.
Initially he looks out only for himself and his immediate family, not hesitating to trade on the black market and take advantage of any deal, at the expense of anyone else including penniless compatriots. When first pressed by the Vichy police to spy at the local mosque his reticence isn't on moral grounds - his discomfort stems from his lack of experience and fear of being caught. At the start of the film, Younes would apparently sell anyone to save his own skin. By the end of it he is ... different. He finds a cause to defend, sometimes running the ultimate risk and taking the ultimate action.

Interwoven with the main plot are many other intriguing threads and characters; Vichy collaborators, Nazi officers, Muslims, Jews, Christians, spivs, resistance fighters, communists, spies, snitches, fugitives, traitors, criminals, children and innocents - with the theme of discovered brotherhood at the film's core. We're left to wonder if the Imam and rector are helping Jews to escape (by providing them with false identities as Muslims) simply because it is the right thing to do... or if they have one eye on a postwar future in which Algeria would want to claim its independence from France.
That's part of what makes Free Men so satisfying. It's beautifully filmed, evoking a more normal depiction of wartime Paris than the stereotype we see so often; it's obviously an occupied city with arrests and martial law, but it's also one where people go about their lives, adapting to the strange circumstances of the time. The colours are human - not a wash of grey misery - the events are commonplace, and affirm that even when the most appalling horrors of history are going on, people still have birthdays, still go to the mosque, still dance, still wash clothes... still form connections.
So Free Men works on many levels. It's both an intelligent, fulfilling story in its own right and a window onto an unfamiliar political situation which is extremely relevant today, in the aftermath of the Arab spring.
And the music! The soundtrack is integral to the film's themes and takes centrestage on a couple of occasions, but it never overwhelms the conventional action. It perfectly highlights Younes' early isolation... and then gradually he's drawn into a foot-tapping, head-nodding rhythm along with his compatriots. The beauty of the Arabic vocals are wonderfully underplayed; at times the translated lyric is stunningly banal, but the sound almost angelic.

Free Men is, then, an unusually accessible arthouse / foreign language film, with themes we can easily relate to - but with plenty of meat in each scene to muse on for days to come. At its heart it is an optimistic, uplifting film which chooses to concentrate on the aspects of goodness emerge even at times of the greatest evil.
Not a typical war movie, it reminds us that an act of heroism can be something as simple as walking the streets of Paris during daylight to take two small children to safety.
Bravo.

9/10

For an alternative, altogether more grey, grim and gritty war story with similar themes, try In Darkness
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Muslims save Jews in this French War time Drama, September 28, 2012
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This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
This is the story of Younes (Tahir Rahim -`A Prophet') he plays a small time Algerian, black marketer in German occupied Paris circa 1942. He gets caught by the collaborationist French Gendarmes and in return for not being jailed (or worse) is told he has to spy on the Paris Mosque. The authorities believe it is being used as a centre to protect `undesirables' and for giving out false documents to aid people fleeing the Nazi rule. At the mosque he meets a talented Arabic singer Salim Halali (Mahumud Shalaby), and Younes is moved by his singing and forceful personality so starts to view his world with very differently.

He also gets involved in helping those he had once lived off /exploited, as he becomes more aware of the plight of those who are being persecuted, he turns from being a self centred, money making merchant into a committed `freedom fighter'. The mosque is central to the whole thing and the leader there is played by Michael Lonsdale (`Of Gods and Men' and `Ronin') who as ever delivers an impeccable performance.

This film shows a remarkable part of history where the Muslims helped Jews escape the Nazi tyranny and as such should be praised for highlighting such a story, but it has got some critics, despite doing rather well on `Rotten Tomatoes' there are still some valid criticisms, one being the lack of tension. That could be because a lot of what takes place is ordinary every day life at the mosque, or the little on screen time of the Nazis and their ally Gendarmes'. This is much more character driven than action and that too could explain it being called `shapeless and sluggish- (The Daily Telegraph). I thought it was a quietly moving story that was directed extremely well by IsmaŽl Ferroukhi. The sets are all wonderful and full of colour especially the Mosque; some of the German uniforms I felt were a bit ropey but that is a minor gripe.

Overall this is one for those who like a bit of art in their films and is in French with fairly good sub titles, a quick search showed that a lot of what is featured in the film did actually take place, and is something I knew nothing at all about, not for action fans and not a real `war' movie for purists but a commendable effort all the same.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, engaging, great!, August 5, 2014
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
With each new film Tahar Rahim confirms that he is one of the best actors around nowadays and definitely one of my favorites. He has a quiet magnetism that lends itself perfectly to rich, three-dimensional characters that feel very human and you can discover little by little. This time he lends his talent to the character of an Algerian immigrant to France during WWII caught up between his own well-being and that of others; and who tries to understand where his loyalty and heart should be. It’s a compelling and engaging plot, quite different from usual war films, filled with amazing characters and interesting stories. And even if Rahim’s performance is arguably the best bit in the film, it is overall excellent, very well written, acted and directed and with great music. Highly recommended!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully done history lesson, October 21, 2013
By 
Go (Palo Alto, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
This was all new to me, but I absolutely loved all the unexpected situations presented. Tahar Rahim is very good in the lead role, the music is lovely, and the script is tight and tense. I thought the look the two actors gave each other at the end of the film spoke a thousand words, and that in itself was a powerful, incredible, unexpected moment. I am not going to give away any of the plot elements because they all surprised me, and I liked the surprises. Loved this film.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Important History Lesson - Arabs Helping Jews - Terrific Music, August 15, 2013
By 
Gerard D. Launay (Berkeley, California) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Free Men (DVD)
Is it possible? In the 20th century, the best singer of the Arab world was really Jewish and homosexual? Yes. And not only that...he survived Nazi persecution because of the aid of a Muslim religious Imam of the Paris Mosque - Si Kaddour Benghabrit.

This is but one of the story threads of a movie focused on the assistance offered North African Jewish refugees by the Paris Mosque during World War II, defying the Nazis and bringing these two groups together. In my view, with the renewed possibility of peace between Palestine and Israel, it is valuable to learn that these two groups should, indeed must learn to live like brothers again.

Most of the movie centers around a young Arab man, interested in making money in the black market of Paris, who develops a conscience in his encounter with Salim Halali, the singer I began this post talking about. It is not a perfect film - think of it as an Arab/Jew version of Fascist Resistance in the mode of Rosselini's Italian Neorealist classic - "Rome - Open City."

Don't let me forget to say that Arab music permeates just about every frame of this film - and that is the best part for lovers of this genre. I own the vinyl record "Salim Halalai - En arabe LP" and experiencing the true voice of this artist is a thrilling music adventure.

Recommended.
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Free Men
Free Men by Ismael Ferroukhi (DVD - 2012)
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