Les hommes libres (Free Men) (2011)
Director: Ismaël Ferroukhi.
Starring: Tahar Rahim (Younes Ben Daoud), Michael Lonsdale (Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit), Mahmud Shalaby (Salim Halali), Lubna Azabal (Warba Shlimane alias Leila), Christopher Buchholz (Le Major von Ratibor), Farid Larbi (Ali), Stéphane Rideau (Francis), Bruno Fleury (L'inspecteur), François Delaive (Le chef de la Gestapo), Jean-Pierre Becker (Le policier moustachu), Marie Berto (Maryvonne), Zakariya Gouram (Omar), Slimane Dazi (Larbi), Aïcha Sokrane (La mère de Larbi), Djemel Barek (Le mari de Maryvonne).
in Nazi-occupied Paris, a Muslim black marketer risks his life to join the resistance; he forms deep bonds as the Mosque smuggles Jews to safety
This file is a fictional story freely inspired by actual people and events.
"In July 1939, the last big wave of immigration reached France. Impoverished laborers, mostly from Algeria and Morocco, arrived in Paris looking for factory and construction work. The war and the German occupation halted the influx. Most were sent back to North Africa, but many stayed on, struggling to make ends meet in occupied Paris."
Men sit around a fire and drink coffee or talk. A young man looks through an opening in the fence at the men. He then grabs his suitcase and comes into the open area. He says hello. The men say hello to him and then ask what does he have today. The young man opens the suitcase. The fellow has coffee and cigarettes, and tea. An older man wants to trade his darbuka (the goblet drum) for some cigarettes, but the vendor says he doesn't do trades. The man explains that he has no money at all. So the vendor trades a pack of cigarettes and matches for the darbuka.
The vendor returns to the place where he stays. A man named Ali tells him that there's a crackdown on immigrants going on. They're doing a lot more ID checking. The vendor's name is Younes. He says he knows because he has been losing customers. Ali then tells him the the union guys are going to meet tonight and Younes should come. Younes says, like before, that he's not interested. Ali leaves.
Younes writes a letter to his brother in Algeria. He write that everything is fine here. Younes pretends that he's still working at the factory, rather than say he's a vendor. The immigration people descend on Younes's building to do ID checks. They put Younwa and others up against a wall. The agents find the suitcase and take Younes in for more questioning. The boss asks Younes where is Ali hiding? Younes says he doesn't know. So they throw Younes in a cell.
Later they come to the cell to get Younes. The boss asks Younes to be helpful to them and he can keep his little business. What he has to do is attend the mosque and report everything to him. Tell him who comes and goes and who goes to see the Director.
Younes goes to the mosque. There he sees German military officers talking with the clergy. The head officer is shown a copy of the Koran. The head clergyman tells the officer that today is an important one for today is the Prophet's birthday. A musical band and a singer perform for the courtyard audience. The head clergyman tells the German officer that he thinks the Algerian singer will one day be a singing star. They say his voice is among the best in the Arab world. Younes is also listening to the music.
A man in a red fez hat and a nice business suit walks over to Younes. Younes avoids him by quickly moving over to speak with the Algerian singer. He holds out his hand, but the singer just asks Younes what's he want? Younes says he has a darbuka to sell. The fellow tells him to bring the darbuka to him tomorrow at the Andalussia Club.
Younes follows a young woman dressed in red. She goes inside one of the rooms and Younes stops following her.
The next day Younes brings the darbuka to the Club. Inside the Club Younes asks to see Salim. Salim gives Younes 800 francs for the darbuka and tells him to come back tomorrow and be his guest, because he's performing then. German soldiers are given a tour of the place.
Younes sees the woman in red again, but this time she is wearing plainer clothes. He follows her again. He has to divert his plan when the man in the red fez makes an appearance.
Younes tells the immigration chief that there was a holiday crowd at the mosque today. Ben Ghabrit was showing a German officer around. They seemed friendly. After the Germans left, Ben Ghabrit went off with the Imam. The chief says he has to know more information than this. He says the Mosque is issuing fake certificates. He shows Younes photos of a woman and two men. Younes says that the second man was at the Adalussia Club. He is a friend of Salim. The chief wants to know more about this Salim and what is he doing with the Commie. The chief now gives Younes some money in an envelope and says he will get more money as he keeps the chief informed.
Younes goes to talk to a man named Omar. He tells Omar he needs to refurnish his supplies. Omar tells him again that he doesn't want Younes to meet him where he works. He tells him to meet him outside the building in an hour.
At night at the Club, Younes sees the three people in the three photos also at the club. They are all sitting together at a small table. Salim sings and also drums on the darbuka. Younes stands up at his table and dances while standing there.
After the performance, Salim and Younes go out together. Salim says the women here are stunning. Younes is impressed by how many women Salim knows. Salim says everybody here knows him. He arrived in Marseilles when he was only 14 years of age. And he knew nobody. And nobody would give him a job as a singer. But now it's very different. And when the war's over, he hopes to open his own club in Paris.
When the guys leave the club, they see a decree of June 6, 1942 on the wall. All Jews are forbidden to perform on stage. Younes asks what the decree says and Salim dismisses it as so much "bullshit".
The next day, Younes wakes up and goes into the bathroom of Salim's place. He hears someone warning Salim about the anti-Semitic decree. The fellow says Salim has to be careful because there are informers everywhere.
Younes talks with the chief in a car parked on the street. Will he tell the chief that Salim is Jewish?
At the Mosque, Ben Ghabrit comes over to speak with Younes. He asks Younes why does he come here, because he never goes into the prayer room. Younes doesn't know what to say to that and he slowly walks away without saying anything.
Younes goes over to Salim's apartment. Salim is abrupt with Younes because he has guests, one of them being the "Commie". He closes the door on Younes.
Younes goes to see Ben Ghabrit, who tells him he knows all about Younes. He adds that Younes is not very subtle. For example, he did not know that they were investigating Salim. He asks Younes if he has told Salim about this? Not yet, is the answer. Ben Ghabrit tells Younes that he should try the Mosque's steam baths.
So Younes goes to the steam baths. There he sees his cousin Ali. He tells Ali that he thought Ali was dead. He also informs Ali that the police are after him. And, furthermore, Ali got him into a lot of trouble. The police raided his hotel and questioned him. He says he almost got shot. Ali tells his cousin that he has joined the Resistance. He's hiding here until things calm down, but no one must knows he is here.
Salim comes into a bar to talk with Younes. He says he just got through talking with Ben Ghabrit. And now he wants to know: "Why are they after me?" Younes tells him not to worry because they don't know that he is Jewish. He also says: "I want to back out."
Ben Ghabrit is the guest of honor at a very formal dinner. The host says: "I raise a toast to French-Arab friendship and congratulate His Excellency, Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit, our minister plenipotentiary and envoy of the Sultan of Morocco, for facilitating contacts between France and North Africa." Ben Ghabrit says a few nice words and then the diners toast the man. A little later Ben Ghabrit speaks to his host in private. He says his host heaps praise on him, but then denies him his trust. "The immigration police have sent a man to spy on the mosque." The host says he will put a stop to that right away.
The maid Leila, the girl in red, works at the mosque. Younes takes a liking to her. Ali comes to speak with his cousin, telling him that he has to take some papers to a place in the 11th district, but he can't do it himself because he can't be seen outside the mosque. He has to gives these fake IDs to an Algerian family. At first, Younes refuses saying he won't risk getting into trouble for strangers. Ali insists that Younes is the only man who can do this for him. So Younes gives in and takes the documents.
Younes start walking and a car pulls up beside him and a tough guy grabs him and throws him into the backseat of the car. The chief of the immigration police tells him: "Idiot! You got spotted! The deal's off. Got it? Stay out of my way, or else!" Now the tough guy throws Younes out and onto the sidewalk. The car pulls away.
Younes goes to the apartment of the Algerian family. A next-door neighbor informs him that the parents of the family were arrested this morning. She asks him to come into her apartment for a moment. There Younes meets a little girl and an even younger boy. These children are the children of the arrested Algerian family and the woman wants Younes to take the children off her hands. Younes says no at first, but, after some hesitation, says yes.
Younes takes the children to the mosque, but an official tells him that the children cannot stay here because the girl's name is Sarah Bensoussan. The children are Jewish. Ben Ghabrit intervenes and takes charge of the children. Laila, who is also Jewish, now sees Younes in a more favorable light.
Younes goes to see Ali, who says he is proud of what Younes did for the children. A man comes into the room and Ali introduces Francis to Younes. Francis was a union man, but now he is a freedom fighter "like us". The men shake hands and then Younes leaves to let the two men talk in private.
Leila is having trouble getting the children to obey her and move out of sight of the courtyard. Younes comes by and asks Sarah what is the problem? Sarah now takes her brother and immediately moves away from the courtyard.
The Nazi major comes to speak with Ben Ghabrit. The major tells him straight out that the Vichy Ministry of Police suspect the staff at the Paris mosque of fraudulently supplying Jewish individuals with papers falsely certifying that they are Muslims. The Imam has been ordered to desist or be punished. Ben Ghabrit tells the major that he doesn't believe a word of this. He says the mosque has enemies and he will not let these enemies tarnish the mosque's reputation. The major tells him to get another Imam, but the clergyman says that's impossible. The major replies: "In that case, if it happens again, my superiors will hold you responsible."
Younes comes to see Leila in her apartment at the mosque. He asks her if she has seen Salim? She says no. He asks her what she is reading and she hands him the small pamphlet about freedom for all.
Younes is in a tavern and the woman owner tells him that she will need a dozen eggs. Younes says he's out of the black market business.
Younes goes back to the mosque and finds Laila washing clothes there. He volunteers to wash a garment and Laila lets him wash it. Laila asks him about his coming to France and he says he came because cousin Ali got him a job at the local factory. He was there for two years, but then he got sick with tuberculosis. He says he was in Bobigny Hospital for weeks. Now Younes asks her about why she works in the mosque? She says it's for family reasons. She has a brother in Germany who is being held in a prison camp. Now Younes asks her if they could go out on a date?
Salim plays the darbuka for Ben Ghabrit. The latter gets a telephone call and he tells Salim that he has just been informed that there's going to be a big police raid in the 11th district. His advice for Salim is to get out of France. He can go to Morocco where friends will give him shelter. Salim replies that he can't leave Paris just yet. He has to find someone. Besides, the certificate will protect him. Ben Ghabrit says not any more it won't because the Germans know now the certificates are fake. So, he tells Salim, if he ever gets arrested, he is to tell the authorities that his father lies buried in the Muslim cemetery in Bobigny. That will be taken as proof that Salim is a Muslim.
Younes visits with Ali and tells him that Leila has been gone since this morning. Ali says she went to meet some people. Furthermore, Younes should not go around being too inquisitive about the matter. They will learn more tonight.
Ali leads Younes through a secret passageway to a restaurant and bar. They go inside to a back room. A political meeting is being held. The speaker says that Messali Hadj got 16 years hard labor for refusing to collaborate. He adds that the Algerians will never be freed unless they wage war on both colonialism and fascism. Ali speaks with Francis and learns that Leila was arrested by the police. He tells Younes the bad news. Francis says the police were tipped off and they raided the barge. Leila was there helping comrades who'd recently escaped from a German prison camp. Her brother was one of the escapees.
Younes walks down the road but is stopped by the Nazi police. The police ask to see Younes' papers and he gives them to the man. The fellow asks Younes if he is Jewish and Younes says no. He checks Younes' penis and finds that he is circumcised. He now arrests Younes. A French policeman comes over and tells the Nazi that Younes is a Muslim, not a Jew.
Younes goes to talk to Salim in a restaurant. He tells the singer that the police are outside arresting everyone. Salim just ignores the remark. He is called up to sing with a distinguished singer. The immigration police rush into the place and grab Salim off the stage.
Ali and Younes meet with Ben Ghabrit, who tells them that today thousands of Jewish families have been arrested and he feels that something terrible is going to happen. Younes asks the elderly man how can they help Salim? Ben Ghabrit tells the two men to go to the Muslim cemetery on an assignment.
Salim is questioned by the police and the major. Salim tells them that his father is buried in the Muslim cemetery. So a Gestapo man tours the cemetery with Salim who tries to locate the grave. The Gestapo man is running out of patience and puts his pistol to Salim's head. Just then Salim spots the grave. He drops to his knees in relief and gratitude. They now release Salim.
Younes goes to Salim's place and sees that the apartment is in shambles after the Gestapo went through it. He finds Salim on his bed looking very listless. When Salim sees Younes, he immediately asks him for a pistol so he can put up a good fight the next time this happens. Younes assures him that there won't be a next time. He asks Younes if he carved the headstone, but Younes only tells him to take his coat and go because he can't stay here.
The news over the radio is that 75,000 British and American troops landed in Morocco and Algeria under General Eisenhower. The success of Operation Torch was aided by French Resistance units.
The major comes to see Ben Ghabrit. He asks if the medal he was to receive has arrived from Morocco? Ben Ghabrit informs the major that the only way he can get the medal is if he goes to Morocco. The major states the obvious: the Americans and the British have taken Morocco. The major smells a rat and indicates to Ben Ghabrit that they never intended to give him the medal they talked about giving him. He says Ben Ghabrit is very cunning, but he has some bad news for the elderly man. The Gestapo counterespionage unit is investigating Ben Ghabrit and the man is in danger. The major gets up and tells Ben Ghabrit that this is the last time they will meet, because he is being transferred back to Germany.
Ali tells Younes that Leila's brother talked under torture and now Leila could be shot. He goes on to say that the woman's real name is Warda Slimane and she is Jewish. And she's a leading communist from Algeria. They're moving her to Fresnes tomorrow. [Fresnes Prison is the second largest prison in France, located in the town of Fresnes, Val-de-Marne South of Paris.] Younes walks outside and down to the police station. He sees Leila going away in a truck with other prisoners. Leila sees Younes too.
Omar comes to see Younes. He has brought him a lot of German-made goods in a suitcase. Omar asks who are the goods for? Younes just says: "Friends."
Younes comes to see Salim. Salim doesn't want to see him, but Younes comes into the apartment anyway. He asks Salim to sing at bar-owner Maryvonne's birthday party. Salim says he doesn't sing anymore. Younes replies: "I told them you'd come. Don't disgrace me." As Younes is leaving the apartment, Salim gives in to Younes' request.
Salim sings at the party. Omar asks Younes isn't it true that Salim is Jewish? Younes says no and asks Omar why he is asking? Because Omar says it was just something he had heard. The song is about Yankees having landed with their pockets bulging with money. "They stroll the streets, attracting all the girls. Now my girl puts on airs because she's being courted by the Americans. Everywhere you go, you hear 'OK, OK'." The party goers now dance. A young male gay makes eyes at Salim and Salim smiles.
The cake is cut and Maryvonne gives a piece of cake to Younes to take to Salim. Salim is not around so Younes starts looking for him. He goes upstairs and the young homosexual comes out of one of the rooms alone. He is shortly followed by Salim. By the expression on his face, Younes obviously doesn't like what he sees, but he doesn't confront Salim about it.
Younes goes out on the streetl. He sees a poster announcing "EXECUTED THIS MORNING." One of the names is Warda Slimane. Younes becomes very upset.
Ali and two other freedom fighters arrives. Ali tells Younes that Francis' group got raided. Francis was wounded, but he made it to Bobigny Hospital. They have to get there before the Gestapo. Younes announces that he's going with them. Ali and another man get into the hospital just a little bit ahead of the Gestapo. Younes and the driver of the car have to bend down to avoid being seen by the Gestapo. Ali and friends just do get Francis out the back way before the Gestapo arrive at the hospital room. The Gestapo leaves.
As the Gestapo get in their car, Younes watches as Omar approaches the car. He is talking to the Gestapo. Apparently, Omar is a traitor. The Gestapo leaves and Omar leaves. Now the doctor holds the door open for the three freedom fighters to leave the hospital. They get in the car and leave. Omar watches from a window as the car leaves.
All of a sudden, Younes notices that the Gestapo are right behind them. So now it's a race between the two cars. The Gestapo starts firing their pistols at the car. The Algerian driver loses control of his car and crashes into a stone wall. The driver is knocked out. The Algerians jump out of the car and start firing at the Gestapo agents. Two of the Algerians slip away behind another wall. An agent chases after the two men. Ali has already been wounded in the neck. He tells his cousin to get out of here. Then he has to yell at Younes to get him out of there. Younes goes. He looks back and sees the other two agents firing bullets into Ali at near point blank range.
The other agent catches up with the two Algerian escapees. He shoots one of them down and then turns his attention to the other Algerian, Francis. Just as he is about to shoot Francis, Younes shoots the Gestapo agent in the back. Younes now gets himself and Francis out of the area.
Bar Ghabrit balls out Younes. He says Younes should have alerted him to the situation. Younes acted without his approval and that Bobigny Hospital is crawling with police spies. "You've endangered the mosque! The mosque is now under 24-hour surveillance." Furthermore, the hospital's chief doctor has been executed for his role in the drama. So now the mosque will have to evacuate the basement of the refugees there. Bar Ghabrit says this will also be a chance for Younes to go home to Algeria. He adds that Younes' friend Omar told the Gestapo that Younes was there at the hospital during the escape.
The Gestapo now descends on the mosque. The refugees are being prepared to leave the mosque and France. Younes is down in the basement and he sees Salim, who says he's staying in Paris. The two men hug each other.
The refugees are about to leave when the little boy says his sister Sarah went back into the mosque to get his teddy bear. Younes braves the Gestapo and the German soldiers with them to retrieve Sarah and the teddy bear. He gets upstairs to the room where he suspects Sarah is. He finds her. A clergyman leading prayer sees the danger Younes and Sarah are in, so he tells the faithful to leave all at once and right now. The doors open and the faithful pour out onto the courtyard. Now Younes and Sarah can blend in with the crowd and get to where they want to go.
Younes has to run down to the river with Sarah. They just do make it on time for Sarah to get safely aboard the huge canal boat. Younes tells Francis that he too is staying in Paris. The boat leaves without Younes.
Younes and Francis take a ride and find Omar walking on the street. Younes jumps out of the car and runs over to Omar. Omar stops dead in his tracks. Younes shoots him right in the chest near or right onto the heart.
Paris is liberated by the Allied Forces. There is a lot of celebrating in the streets. Younes goes to the mosque. Bar Ghabrit is still there. He comes over to say hello Younes. Younes asks him how is Salim doing? He is doing well. He's singing again. Bar Ghabrit adds that Younes should go see Salim, because the young man would truly like to see him again.
Younes goes to listen to Salim singing. Salim sees Younes in the audience.
"After the war, Salim Halali opened the Ismailia Follies in Paris. He was the leading champion of North African music in Europe. Later, he moved to Casablanca, where he founded North Africa's greatest cabaret, Le Coq d'Or. Finally, he retired to Cannes, where he died in anonymity in 2005."
"Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit was awarded the Resistance Rosette in 1947. He directed the Paris mosque until his death in 1954. He was buried in the grounds of the mosque."
"Through Younes, a character inspired by various free men of North Africa, this film honors all the unnamed men and women who fought for freedom."
Good movie. It shows how the Algerian Muslims in France joined the French Resistance and fought to free France of the German occupation. Algerian Jews in France also joined the French Resistance. They deserve great honors for their efforts fighting tyranny. The film also shows how the Muslims and Jews of France helped at least some of the Jewish people in France to escape being placed in Nazi concentration camps. So among the minorities, most everyone on the Allied side behaved honorably and bravely. That's good to know and I'm glad I watched the movie. My wife liked the film too.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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