[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]
This film (English title: ‘Free Men’) opened in Paris this week and I had to see it right away. It’s about a little known story during WWII and the German occupation of France, when the Great Mosque of Paris protected Jews during the round-ups and deportations—sheltering them in the mosque and providing false identity papers certifying them as Muslims—, from mid-1942 to the Liberation. Very little has been written on this and there are few first-hand accounts, though the fact that Benjamin Stora—who knows the subject better than just about anyone—was the historical adviser for the film gives it credibility. The film’s account of the episode also conforms to that of Robert Satloff, who devoted a chapter to the Paris mosque in his book Among the Righteous, which tells the stories of Arabs who protected Jews during the Holocaust. The structure of the film is fairly conventional and I wouldn’t rate it as high as director Ismaël Ferroukhi’s ‘Le Grand voyage‘—a wonderful film—but it’s still good, with a fine cast—notably Tahar Rahim and Michael Lonsdale (in the role of mosque rector Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit)—, and absolutely worth seeing on account of the subject matter (here’s one review).
A nice thing about the movie is the music. One of its main stories is that of the Arabo-Andalusian singer Salim/Simon Halali, who was a Judeo-Berber from Algeria and was given cover by the mosque during the occupation. I like Arabo-Andalusian music—particularly seeing it performed live—but don’t know individual singers or orchestras. For samples of Halili’s music, see here, here, and here.
UPDATE: The New York Times has an article on the film. (October 3)
2nd UPDATE: It should be said that a few historians have taken issue with the accuracy of the film. E.g., see here the critiques of Michel Renard and Daniel Lefeuvre, followed by the responses of Benjamin Stora and Pierre Haski. (October 9)
3rd UPDATE: Haaretz has a lengthy piece on the film, which is showing in Israel at the moment. (March 24, 2012)