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Free Men

IsmaŽl Ferroukhi

Free Men
Ironically titled and playing off the oxymoronic concept of "freedom fighting," Ismaël Ferroukhi's historical thriller, Free Men, exposes the little known WWII conflict in France, wherein Jews posed as Muslims to evade German imprisonment. Dramatizing these events is Algerian immigrant Younes (Tahar Rahim), whose initial reckless bartering and shady dealings draw the attention of the SS, leading to his reluctant role as a mole at the local mosque, where he learns of greater political oppression. Oddly, his schooling, if you will, is quite insular, insomuch as the historical context outside of his Parisian mosque home base seems almost non-existent. He befriends a religious leader and a Jewish performer, inadvertently winding up the middle of a tenuously realized, almost lacklustre conflict, internalizing a rage that affects everyone but him. In such, his eventual turn to political activist and fighter is as unconvincing as the story itself, realized only in concept while safely navigating a terrain that could easily become controversial. There are even a handful of subplots about orphaned children and a communist dissident that exist only to flesh out the runtime and provide some vague political motivations for change. It's as though Ferroukhi's deliberate attempts to avoid grandstanding ultimately hinder any potential power or drama, leaving only a meek, insubstantial and illogically developed protagonist to guide a story that takes place mostly off screen and in our own minds. There is something intriguing about two religions managing to work together to ward off a greater threat, but the altruism depicted and everyone's greater disconnect from the driving global battle lack ire and believability, rendering the film mostly ineffective and forgettable. Also included with the DVD is John Francis Black II's short film, Lustig, which features a concentration camp survivor bringing a bag to the family of a man that perished. (Film Movement)
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