Film provides fresh insights into life in Parish during World War Two

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GIVEN the number of films that tell true stories about events that occurred during the Second World War, it would be easy to assume that there was nothing new still to be said. But there is – and that is proved by Ismaël Ferroukhi’s fine new film Free Men set in Paris at that time.

This is the second film in the new season of the Eastbourne Film Society and, with seats available for the general public, it plays at the Curzon Cinema next Wednesday, October 3.

Ferroukhi, who previously made the memorable film Le Grand Voyage about a father and son journeying to Mecca (a work much admired when screened by the Society), was born in Morocco but his career in cinema and television has taken place in France.

Despite this background, it was only recently – and then through an article in the French press – that he became aware of the wartime activities of Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit who was the leading figure at the Paris mosque during the Occupation.

Outwardly this man had to appear to act in ways that placated the Germans but, in point of fact, he was helping members of the Resistance and played a crucial role in enabling many Jews to survive.

Rightly believing that this was a story that was too little known and needed to be told, Ferroukhi researched the facts and then created a narrative based on them.

It also features another real-life figure, the singer Salim Hallali who in the 1940s became a bridge between the Muslim and Jewish communities in the city.

In choosing to tell this tale, Ferroukhi gives us fresh insights into life in Paris at that time, but it is also evident that this deeply humane filmmaker has today’s world in mind and the continuing need for common humanity to be recognised and acted upon.