An Algerian in Paris

Tahar Rahim in Free Men (2011)

Having arrived with other immigrants before the invasion, Algerian Younes Ben Daoud (Tahar Rahim) makes his living buying, selling and trading on the black market whilst trying to keep a low profile. But it doesn't work as he ends up being caught by the police who in turn for his freedom want him to spy on Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit (Michael Lonsdale) the rector of the Paris Mosque as he is suspected of harbouring Jews and assisting in attaining false documents for them. But not only is Younes not a very good spy but he befriends Salim Halali (Mahmud Shalaby) and begins to sympathize with the plight of the Jews due to the Nazis.

If I had a complex reading other reviews of "Free Men" would undoubtedly make me feel incredibly small. You see my knowledge of the resistance movement in France and the involvement of Algerian's is zero, some might say I should be ashamed but considering the poor education system in England during the 80s my ignorance should not be a surprise. And that is in truth the thing about "Free Men" as for it to really work you needs a working knowledge of the era and those involved because without it "Free Men" becomes a much simpler movie.

How much simpler? Well what I watched was the story of black marketer, Younes, who tries to spy of Ben Ghabrit but ends up sympathising with the Jewish community and then ends up surprisingly becoming a freedom fighter. I say surprisingly because at the start of the movie Younes was only interested in his own cause, making money and keeping a low profile so as to go undetected. There is more to it than just this we have a collection of other characters including singer Salim Halali who is not only Jewish but also happens to be homosexual. But without the working knowledge of the time, the issues and familiarity with certain characters "Free Men" only ends up a solid but not brilliant movie which is slow going during the first half.

What this all boils down to is that "Free Men" is a movie not really for movie fans but more those who are history fans and have a knowledge of the situation in France during 1942 and the Algerian community who were there at the time.

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