“Free Men” Sheds Light on Little-Known Heroes of Nazi-Occupied
By Skip Sheffield
Arabs and Jews as friends?
Ah oui, that is the unusual scenario of “Free Men,” a film inspired by real events in
in World War II.
Directed by Moroccan-born Ismael Ferroukhi, “Free Men” was a hit at Sundance and Toronto Film Festival and is now playing FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
“Free Men” stars charismatic young French actor Teher Rahim, whose character of Younes represents nameless North African Muslims who cooperated with the French Resistance against the Nazis and saved Jews from death camps.
Like many of his Moroccan countrymen, Younes immigrated to
France in the
1930s to find a better life. Younes worked in a factory for two years, but
contracted tuberculosis, lost his job, and was forced to make a precarious
living as a black marketer.
Younes is arrested by French police, but he is given a chance to avoid jail by spying on parishioners at the Paris Mosque and reporting any suspicious activity.
Occupying German forces suspected the Mosque’s rector, Ben Ghabrit, was aiding and abetting North African Jews by giving them fake passports and papers identifying them as Muslims.
Ben Ghabrit. Played by Michael Lonsdale, is based on a real-life character.
So is Salim Halali, played by Mahmud Shalaby. Salim was a celebrated Moroccan singer of Jewish ancestry and thereby in imminent peril.
It is Younes’ friendship with Salim, and also his budding love for Leila (Lubna Azabal), a fiery Resistance fighter, that changes Younes’ heart and inspires him to join the Resistance as a double agent.
“Free Men” plays out like a thriller, with heroes, villains an exciting car chase and shootout. What adds to the satisfaction is that at film’s end we are told of the fate of the actual characters.
One is left with the thought: if Muslims once risked theirs lives to save Jews, could they not put aside the bitter hatred that divides the world today?
Three and a half stars