Paris, occupied France, 1942. Younes, an uneducated Algerian immigrant, ekes out a very modest living on the black market. When the police catches him they set him free provided he infiltrates the Paris Mosque and spies on the rector. Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit is indeed suspected not only of providing false papers to Jews but of harboring some of them as well. Once within the precincts of the Mosque, Younes proves a poor secret agent, which displeases the police inspector in charge of him. In fact, at the mosque, Younes becomes every day more alert to the great tragedy in progress because of the Nazis. He also develops a deep friendship with a singer named Salim Halali. To his amazement, he discovers that Salim is both Jewish and homosexual... Written by
Ismaël Ferroukhi both wrote (with Alain-Michel Blanc) and directed this emotionally charged story based on fact and peppered with real and fictitious characters to drive home the point of the film - that differences among peoples become erased in response to a common enemy. This is a powerful little film made more radiant because of the brilliant cast.
In German occupied Paris in WW II there is a segment of Algerian and Moroccan immigrants who survive on the fringes largely due to people like the unemployed Younes (the handsome and gifted French actor of Algerian origin Tahir Rahim) who runs a black market selling cigarettes, tea, coffee and food to his fellow Algerians - until he is caught by the police. Instead to going to prison he is set up to spy on the Paris Mosque, thought by the police to be center for the Mosque authorities, including its rector Ben Ghabrit (Michael Lonsdale) of aiding Muslim Resistance agents and helping North African Jews by giving them false certificates. At the Mosque, Younes meets the Algerian singer Salim Halali (Mahmud Shalaby), and is moved by Salim's beautiful voice and strong personality. When Younes discovers that Salim is Jewish, he stops collaborating with the police and gradually transforms from a politically ignorant immigrant black marketeer into a fully-fledged freedom fighter. It is this friendship between Younes and Salim that shapes the changes in Younes character, allowing him to move form a non-political opportunist to a committed freedom fighter.
There are many side stories that occur - the influence of the Gestapo, the presence of the mysterious Leila (the profoundly gifted and beautiful Lubna Azabal), Vichy collaborators, Muslims, Jews, Christians, resistance fighters, communists, spies, snitches, fugitives, traitors, criminals, children and innocents - with the theme of discovered camaraderie emerging slowly but surely. This is an inspired film that opens windows to parts of WW II history little known to the general public, and at films end the history of the post war activities of those character who are real is revealed, with 'Younes' being described as the general representative of all the Algerian and Jewish immigrants. The score is filled with the singing of Salim/Mahmud Shalaby that adds a definite feeling of authenticity to the film. In French and Arabic with English subtitles.
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