20 October 2012 | jm10701
Not much good except for Michael Lonsdale
Tahar Rahim plays Younes, a young Algerian in Paris during the Nazi occupation, planning to return to Algeria after he gets rich on the black market. Instead, he ends up joining the Resistance and helping a few Jews escape through the Paris mosque.
Rahim is a gifted actor. I first saw him in A Prophet, a so-so prison movie in which he gave a fantastic performance. Free Men has a great performance by Michael Lonsdale as the head of the mosque, and maybe that's why Rahim seems less impressive in this movie than he was in A Prophet. A Prophet made me an instant fan, but if I'd seen Free Men first I don't think that would have happened; Rahim is good in it, but not fantastic.
Another problem I have with Free Men is that the central relationship is between Younes and a young Jewish singer of North African music named Salim who has survived because the mosque gave him false ID as a Moslem. The friendship between Younes and Salim is supposed to be inspiring (I think), but it just annoyed the hell out of me.
First, the actor who plays Salim is an Arab, not a Jew, and he looks like an Arab, not a Jew. Trying to see the character as a Jew is practically impossible, but his Jewishness is key to the movie. If their friendship is supposed to exemplify some sort of grand utopian harmony between Arabs and Jews, it fails.
Second, Salim is supposed to be the world's greatest singer of North African music, but to me it was nearly unbearable, just a bunch of ugly, whiny, screechy, nasal noise. I don't mean to offend North Africans, but their music doesn't sound like music to me (Lots of American music is even worse, though, including punk, heavy metal and rap).
Plus, the guy playing Salim is so ugly that I couldn't look at him for more than a few seconds at a time; he has weird eyes that reminded me of the Emperor's yellow eyes in The Empire Strikes Back (or maybe it was Return of the Jedi), only Salim's are a strange unnatural blue color. Better casting of that role might have helped this movie a lot.
So I don't recommend Free Men. The only things I enjoyed were Lonsdale's performance and seeing a sort of street-level view of what Paris may have been like under the Nazis, which I don't think I'd ever seen before.