Notes From the Margins…

Ismael Ferroukhi’s War

  • June 03, 2012
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In the last few years there has been an interesting and important stream of films by French-North African directors, which have delved into corners of French-Algerian history that have either never appeared in mainstream cinema before or been touched on only tangentially.

First there was Rachid Bouchareb”s powerful Days of Glory (2006), which celebrated the contribution of Algerian soldiers to the liberation ofFrance during World War II a film that reportedly moved the then president Jacques Chirac to finally pay the pensions of Algerian veterans for the first time.

Bouchareb returned to Algeriawith Outside the Law (2010), a sombre and resolutely un-heroic depiction of the activities of the FLN underground inFrance during the Algerian War of Independence.

Now there is the French/Moroccan director Ismael Ferroukhi”s Free Men, which I”ve just seen this afternoon.  Ferrouhki is the director of the remarkable road movie Le Grand Voyage (2005), a moving study of the changing values and mores of two generations of French Muslims who travel together on the haj.

Free Men is a very different film, which deals with the virtually unknown participation of North African immigrant workers in the French Resistance during World War II.  It stars Tahar Rahim the star of the savage prison drama The Prophet, as Younes, an Algerian black marketer who is gradually politicized and drawn into the Resistance, and through it to the emerging struggle for Algerian independence.

I can”t say it is an entirely successful film.    There are periods when the narrative falls  slack, and some of the characterization is a bit sketchy, partly because of the writing and partly because of the acting.

Nevertheless much of it works very well,  and its evocation of this lost period of French-Algerian history, in which Muslim immigrants and religious authorities helped Jews escape from Vichy roundups contains an important message for own era, for reasons which hardly need explaining.

The politics of the period are convincingly drawn, as Younes” radicalisation leads him to the anti-colonialism of the Algerian nationalist Mesali Hadj and participation in the anti-fascist struggle in the belief that the liberation of France would also lead to an independent Algeria.

All of which makes for a flawed but nevertheless engrossing and important film that deserves to be seen, about an episode that deserves to be remembered.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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