Free Men (12A)

Ismaël Ferroukhi, 99mins. Starring: Tahar Rahim, Michael Lonsdale

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The Independent Culture

Resistance under the Nazi occupation has become such a hot topic among the French that one sometimes wonders if they're protesting too much. There weren't that many heroic Maquis.

This truth-based drama tells a remarkable story of Parisian Muslims who helped protect fugitive Jews with forged documents and escape routes. Its focus is an Algerian émigré and black-marketeer named Younes (Tahar Rahim) who's recruited by the Vichy police to report on suspect activities in the city mosque.

His encounters with the resident rector Ben Ghabrit (Michael Lonsdale, a beatific variation on his Catholic monk in Of Gods and Men), a local singer (Mahmoud Shalaby) and a dark-eyed partisan (Lubna Azabal) reverse the direction of Younes's allegiances until he starts to risk his own life in freedom's cause. Rahim is a compelling presence – he has the punk grace and swagger of a young De Niro – but his character is sold short by director Ismaël Ferroukhi's underwritten script.

Even for a strong, silent type Younes is frustratingly opaque as a hero, plainly troubled in conscience yet never granted a scene to explain why he changes. The atmosphere of suspicion is well-handled, all the same, and its foreshadowing of a later Algerian struggle with the mother country is poignant.

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