Free Men - Blu-ray Review

'Ferroukhi can't find the central thread to match the people he wants his story to be about'

The concepts of conflict and religion (and indeed, religious conflict) feel as though they are rarely treated in the way Ismaƫl Ferroukhi approaches them within Free Men. Despite its Second World War setting, Free Men is the story of religions operating in harmony and with a concern for mutual preservation. This is, despite the glum setting, a positive theological story for the interoperability of belief.

At the centre runs a fairly straightforward allegorical tale, as Younes (Tahar Rahim), a Muslim, sets about righting his early wrongs by actively taking part in a movement which attempts to shelter as many Parisian Jews as possible from the oncoming Nazi onslaught. Initially working against and then for the Mosque's leader (Michael Lonsdale), Younes becomes drawn to the band of Muslim resistance fighters, working to liberate Paris.

Ferroukhi's film at times does a good job of telling a story little-told about people the mainstream often ignores. Whilst the beaches of Dunkirk frequently seem to attract Hollywood, the heroes in the basements of Mosques shown here do not feel as though they have really had any sort of outing on the big screen. At its best, Free Men gives voice and a handful of good scenes to Paris under-seen minorities; the finale in and around the Mosque is by far the best part of the film, with several individual scenes standing out as something worth watching.

The problem with the rest of the film though is that Ferroukhi can't find the central thread to match the people he wants his story to be about. There's a significant line played with through singer Salim (Mahmud Shalaby), which adds little to the story of the Mosque and then an even more tagged on element about Leila (Lubna Azabal), a girl who works in the Mosque and is quickly dropped from the plot after she has fluttered her eyelashes at Younes a couple of times. It's clear that a much more focused edit was needed here. The film might be a tight ninety-nine minutes but sub plots go nowhere and make no sense and even the core plot seems to be scruffily handled. Lonsdale at one point tells Rahim's character that he has 'known about him all along'. At that point Younes has done precisely nothing that I could see that may have raised suspicions.

Rahim does provide another reason to watch Free Men, continuing the deliberately uncertain line he started to ply in A Prophet. There is a presence about him that makes him an interesting watch on screen; as a character you feel that Younes is on a pretty predictable path but in Rahim's hands it never really feels like it. The rest of the film, however, cannot avoid that fate. Ferroukhi leads Free Men through a fairly stilted and muddied plot, lacking narrative mastery and therefore the story these heroes of Paris deserve.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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