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Saturday, March 2, 2013

LES HOMMES LIBRES / FREE MEN (2011)

Ismaël Ferroukhi’s fact-inspired film about the Muslim community in WWII Nazi-occupied Paris (largely Algerian) starts out ‘just great’ and finishes up ‘just good.’ It’s a fascinating sidebar story that’s too little known, told here thru the eyes of Tahar Rahim (the kid from UN PROPHÈTE/’09), who plays a composite character who goes from black marketeer to police informer to resistance fighter. Ferroukhi does a neat job creating period settings with ‘found’ locations, and gets much out of a tight budget, but the narrow focus leaves too many lines of conflict unexplored. Not only within the Paris-based Muslim community (with Michael Lonsdale, a pleasing if unexpected choice as leading figure), but also the actions of local police more worried about Communists than Germans; contented Vichy government bureaucrats, and the Nazi officers threatening violence & deportation. Rahim’s character winds up touching all bases, but the script only hints at the moral contradictions swirling around, instead emphasizing a pair of deserted Jewish orphan kids and a double revelation about a famous singer Rahim befriends. Effective as narrative hooks, but more conventional (and dramatically convenient) than the glimmers of dramatic opportunity hinted elsewhere. Still, what is in here is well handled, and often moving, and the film has more specific flavor to it then Ferroukhi’s debut pic, LE GRAND VOYAGE/’04. His artistic trajectory is as promising as the moral trajectory of this pic's lead.

DOUBLE-BILL: Rachid Bouchareb’s INDIGENES/DAYS OF GLORY/’06, spotlights the underlying motivation of many Algerians in France at this time who fought for their adopted homeland with the hope of fighting to free their own homeland after the war.

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