Say the phrase “WWII French Resistance film,” and watch cinephiles’ eyes widen with delight: Clandestine meetings! Life-or-death situations! Trench-coated Gestapo and traitorous collaborators slinking around occupied France, while history’s righteous warriors fight for liberty! (Equality and fraternity, you get to take a break.) Audiences will indeed get some of the genre’s surface pleasures in Ismaël Ferroukhi’s addition to the Gallic-courage-under-fire catalog, as a black-market hustler (Rahim) finds himself drawn into the underground anti-Nazi movement via a charming nightclub singer (Shalaby) and an elder (Lonsdale) at the local mosque.
Yes, a mosque: These freedom fighters are North African Muslim immigrants. Though it’s still the story of a hero who must decide whether to suck up to France’s temporary Teutonic landlords or do the right thing, now the usual skulking about under Nazi noses doubles as a critique of colonial attitudes that, regrettably, didn’t disappear once the Stormtroopers perp-walked away. Thankfully, Ferroukhi’s drama doesn’t batter you with that bitter irony à la Days of Glory, though anyone expecting an Arabic Army of Shadows will be disappointed; if a muted, moodier approach to the material befits the social-issue subtext, it also severely dampens the tension and pacing that makes these films thrum. Rather, consider the movie a testament to Rahim’s screen presence. If nothing else, Free Men proves that the can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him charisma the Franco-Algerian actor displayed in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet was no fluke.
Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear
|Release date:||Friday March 2 2012|
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Alain-Michel Blanc, Ismael Ferroukhi|