In 1942, a young man named Younes is caught between a rock and a hard place. He’s a French black market runner who’s shuttling goods in German-occupied France. When he’s caught and discovered by the puppet government, Younes is given a choice: He can go to jail, or he can spy on the Arab resistance for the Nazis.
This is the plot of the new French film Free Men. Based on true events, it recalls a time when Jewish-Muslim relations in France were radically different than they are today. In fact, while the Germans were systematically exterminating French and North African Jews, the Great Mosque of Paris helped hundreds of Jews escape the regime.
But dealing in secrets always means creating some of your own. The culture of the Great Mosque is every bit as political and divisive as a synagogue Men’s Club, and Younes is drawn into the battles–and finds his secrets being discovered. Of course, there’s also a love story: Younes falls for an Algerian singer in hiding, and discovers that she’s an Algerian Jew.
The film stands on its own as an exemplary WWII period piece and a dramatic action film. But it can also be seen as a commentary on contemporary Jewish-Muslim France, asking a silent question: If another tragedy would happen today, would Jews and Muslims still help each other like this?
March 26, 2012