Muslims and Jews vs. Nazis in French film

Anytime Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and fellow Holocaust-deniers would like to relax at a movie, we would recommend the French film “Free Men” (Les Hommes Libres).

A screening might also be useful for both Arabs and Jews, who are convinced that the two Semitic tribes are fated to fight each other forever.

Directed by Moroccan-born Ismael Ferroukhi, “Free Men” is set in Nazi-occupied Paris, where Arab immigrants from North Africa mostly eke out a living as underpaid factory workers.
One is the handsome Younes (Tahar Rahim), who figures he can make more money as a black marketeer. He is caught by the French police and “persuaded” to spy on the comings and goings at the Grand Mosque, the city’s Muslim center, to report any suspicious activities that might annoy the German overlords.

Indeed, the mosque’s rector (Michael Lonsdale) is giving fake IDs to North African Jews, certifying them as Muslims. The latter are treated relatively well by the Germans, in the hope that Arab countries will be won over to the Axis cause.

Younes strikes up a friendship with Salim, a soulful singer with a magnetic personality and the toast of Arab nightclubs. After Younes learns that Salim is actually Jewish, the black marketeer moves to protect his friend, double-crosses the police, and eventually becomes a resistance fighter.

In a trans-ethnic potpourri, Salim is portrayed by Mahmout Shalaby, an Israeli Arab, playing a Jew passing as a Muslim. Furthermore, Salim’s singing voice is dubbed by one of the great interpreters of Arab music, a Moroccan named Pinhas Cohen.

Through the film, there is an undercurrent of Nazi menace, as well as the hope by Moroccan and Algerian resistance fighters that their loyalty to a Free France will be rewarded after victory by independence for their own nations.

“Free Men” is advertised as “inspired by actual events,” and, according to research by the New York Times, that is at least partially the case.  The imam of the Grand Mosque did indeed issue false identification papers to Jews during the Nazi occupation, saving between several dozen to one hundred from deportation to the death camps.

“Free Men” opens March 23 for a one-week run at the Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles. Phone (310) 281-8223 for information.