Ismaël Ferroukhi’s Free Men is an incredible period piece and one of the most impressive WW II films I have ever seen. Trading the typical settings of most WWII films, Free Men finds its focus on the Algerians living in Paris, under the German occupation. Younes (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet) is a young Algerian, who makes his money by selling items on the black market. He gets picked up by the police, but is let go to become an informant for them and is given the task to infiltrate the Paris Mosque. Here, he meets a singer named Salim (Mahmud Shalaby, The Other Son), who he becomes good friends with and many other people that frequent the mosque. Whilst in the company of the people of the mosque, Younes learns that the mosque is indeed helping Jews from Algerian and other parts of Northern Africa. Being in the position that he’s in with the police and his newfound friendships, Younes must choose to either help his newfound friends and rise up against the police and Nazi’s or become prey and suffer, like many other Algerians. Ferroukhi’s Free Men is based on true events, is one of the best films I’ve seen all year and an excellent addition to Film Movement’s great catalog of international cinema.
The character arc of Rahim’s Younes and his portrayal of him is nothing short of excellent. From the moment we see him peering through a hole of a wooden fence, looking to prey on his own people for money, to the eventual change of Younes wanting to help in the liberation, Tahar Rahim’s ability to portray this character is brilliant and demands to be seen. Armand Amar’s original score for the film is another incredible addition that helps convey the emotional turmoil of many of the various characters and establishes an incredible mood from the beginning of the film. While the films has fictional elements in it, Ferroukhi and fellow screenwriter Alain-Michel Blanc do an impressive job at incorporating real life people and situations during WWII, that makes the film seem that much more immediate and important.
Much like Rachid Bouchareb’s 2006’s Days of Glory (Indigènes), Ferroukhi’s Free Men is another great film set during WWII that manages to shows the plight of the Algerian people in the face of adversity and is a refreshing take and look into other aspects that the WWII film has to offer. Film Movement’s DVD of Free Men comes with a great behind-the-scenes documentary and a short film by John Francis Black II, titled Lustig.
Free Men is available now on DVD from Film Movement and The Jewish Film Club.