NNarrative Feature Competition
Free MenOriginal Title: Les Hommes libres
Director: Ismaël Ferroukhi
France, Morocco | French, Arabic
Subtitles: Arabic and English
It is 1942 and Paris is under Nazi occupation. Younes (Tahar Rahim), a young Algerian immigrant, peddles rationed goods on the black market. When he is arrested by the French police, he is forced to turn spy for them, and is ordered to infiltrate the Grand Mosque of Paris. Collaborationist French authorities suspect the mosque’s founder, Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit (Michael Lonsdale) –whose rather grand title is Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy of the Sultan of Morocco –of issuing forged documents to Jews and members of the Resistance.
Within the cloistered world of the mosque garden, Younes meets the mesmerizing Salim Halali (Mahmoud Shalaby), a rising Andalusian singer of Algerian origin. These two become friends and Younes’s discovery that Salim is Jewish leads him to break his ties with the police, at great personal risk. As anti-Jewish laws are implemented and persecution increases, Younes takes up the fight for freedom and joins the ranks of the Resistance himself.
Director Ismaël Ferroukhi’s film is a bold and timely historical-fiction narrative that brings to light forgotten events –in this case, the Paris Grand Mosque’s active part in assisting Jews and other social and political undesirables to escape raids and deportation at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Based in part on the biographies of Halali and Ben Ghabrit, through the fictional character of Younes, the film pays homage to the Maghrebi citizens of France who were not part of the French census tally and were as such seen as neither French nor foreign. These invisible men who fought for France’s liberation have been written out of history and memory. Free Men
demands that we remember and acknowledge them. –Camille Mallat