Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In Alexandre Arcady's taut, unsettling 24 DAYS, France begins to deal with crimes against Jews

The year was 2006, with the event the kidnaping (for money) and then the torture of a young Frenchman, Ilan Halimi, Jewish and of Moroccan descent, as police and family unite to try to find and save him. The film that has been made from this true story, 24 DAYS, is an extremely unsettling one -- not simply because it deals with the kind of seemingly random, hugely unfair and mostly stupid and senseless crime -- but because that crime deliberately targeted Jews, even if, in this particular case, it was less religious fervor driving the kidnappers than that old saw that equates Jews with money.

As directed by Alexandre Arcady (shown at left and whose only other film I have seen is the pretty but so-so family crime drama, Comme les cinq doigts de la main, also know as Five Brothers and unreleased here in the USA), 24 Days is tension-filled and relatively fast-paced, tossing us into the lives of both the family (as it comes together to help retrieve its missing member) and the police force (who work around the clock to ferret out and apprehend the kidnappers). Known more for making pot-boilers than artistic, critically-approved movies, M. Arcady seems to have tamped down his penchant for mainstream excess and has delivered a surprisingly effective film that works on several levels.

24 Days taps into the fear and horror felt by Ilan's family, especially his mother, given a rich, layered performance from Zabou Breitman, above, right, with Syrus Shahidi, who plays her soon-to-be-missing son. (Ms Breitman, by the way, is also the director and co-writer of one of TrustMovies' favorite films: The Man of My Life.)

Pascal Elbé, left, uses his knack for strength, endurance and repressed emotion to make much of the character of Ilan's dad, whom the police use -- due to those very factors -- as the family member who must deal with the top-dog among the kidnappers.

Interestingly, Ilan's undoing was having gone on a date with a pretty young girl used as bait to entrap the boy, even though he already has a girlfriend/maybe-fiancee with whom he is heavily involved. Infidelity, however, is hardly an excuse for what happens to him.

For their part the police -- with Jacques Gamblin (above, left), Sylvie Testud and Éric Caravaca (above, right) in the major roles -- are shown as professional, caring folk, even if there appears, finally, disagreement among them as to what kind of crime this really is -- simple kidnapping-for-money or one inspired instead by race hatred. (The reason for the kidnapping can also effect how the police investigation is handled.)

The movie, to its credit, comes down on both sides, offering money as the main object of gain, but also showing how the treatment of Ilan -- casual torture, with the young man seen as something less than human by his kidnappers -- is most likely due to his being Jewish, and a helpless victim.

The film hones to a near-documentary style that shows us what is happening and how the rather large group of people involved in the kidnapping work together, under the thumb of its somewhat deranged leader (a frightening performance by Tony Harrisson, above). It also shows how easily the gang might have been tripped up had any of the locals -- who clearly knew that something nefarious was going on -- only come forward.

Unlike so many kidnap movies, this one offers none of the feel-good, nick-of-time resolution which we might expect or hope for. It seems to me that the film adheres as closely to the facts of the case as it can, and thus provides grueling object lessons in police procedure (good and bad), racism, family unity and the need for protection.

From Menemsha Films and running 108 minutes, 24 Days opens this Friday in New York at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan and the Kew Gardens Cinema in Queens; in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall; and in another dozen cities across the country in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and (mostly) Florida. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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