Neil Friedman, head of Menemsha Films, in announcing the DVD release of the superb film “24 Days,” a bold, moving story of a real-life anti-Semitic kidnapping and murder in France, said the release of the DVD would be done purposefully on Bastille Day.
“The decision to release the DVD of "24 Days" on Bastille Day, July 14,” Friedman said, “was reached to underscore that the founding principles of the French Republic, ‘liberté, égalité and fraternité" are not easily attainable but always worth striving for."
In addition to dramatizing the atrocity and its emotional toll, “24 Days” records the struggle it took to get French authorities to recognize the kidnapping and murder as an anti-Semitic act, with the victim selected because he was Jewish. The DVD release comes against the background of other anti-Semitic acts in France and elsewhere and thus assumes extra importance.
The following is my review of the “24 Days” when it was originally released theatrically:
A harrowing, suspense-packed thriller, “24 Days” is a timely true story that is one of the most important films of the year for what it reveals to the world. The tension never lets up and its emotional power is overwhelming.
Directed by Alexandre Arcady, “24 Days” is a fast-moving dramatic account of the 2006 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 23-year-old French Jew, Ilan Halimi. The perpetrators were gang members known as “The Barbarians,” who worked out a plan involving a young woman luring Halimi to a place where he was seized and taken to an apartment in Paris’s Bagneux neighborhood. Ransom was demanded, but when the situation fell apart with police on the trail, Halimi was set afire and left n a wooded area, and then, after being discovered, died shortly thereafter.
The film is told from the viewpoint of Halimi’s mother, Ruth, convincingly and movingly acted by Zabou Breitman, who courageously battles to get French authorities to admit the real reason for her son being kidnapped—that he was targeted because he was a Jew. The film depicts the reluctance of the powers that be to concede this, and Ruth Halimi’s fight to bring out the truth.
The film is an especially timely sounding of alarm in view of the anti-Semitic incidents that have been spreading in France and other parts of Europe. Witness the recent slaughter at the kosher supermarket in France. Given the history of the holocaust and the deportation from France of Jews sent to their deaths under the collaborative Vichy government during the World World War II Nazi occupation, new fear has set in leading thousands of French Jews to leave for Israel.
The challenge for the makers of “24 Days” was to keep the story suspenseful even though the outcome is known. The screenplay by Antoine Lacomblez, Emilie Frèche and director Arcady, based on a book by Ruth Halimi and Frèche, and the way in which the film unfolds meet the challenge admirably. The expert casting, the tone of the acting and the brilliant rapid-fire editing combine to maintain the tension and keep the passions at high pitch.
“24 Days” grabs you at the outset and never lets up until the ultimate triumph by Ruth Halimi even after the tragic loss of her son. She takes the case further than one expects, leading to a shattering finale. Much of the intensity builds from the ransom demands, the questionable police reaction of not wanting payment made and members of the family caught in the dilemma of wanting to do anything to save Ilan, played by handsome Syrus Shahidi. The mother’s ex-husband, Didier, effectively enacted by Pascal Elbé, arrives to help and attempts to keep the situation as calm as possible and his own emotions in check. Jacques Gamblin does a good job portraying Commandant Delcour, who is sympathetic but attempting to follow the police pattern of dealing with crime by the book. The kidnappers are shown to be increasingly frantic and frustrated as they keep making phone calls to demand money and dictate ways to get it.
What is steadily clear to viewers is that this is no ordinary crime, but one in which the perpetrators, a racial mix led by an African immigrant, pick out a Jew as a victim because of disdain for Jews and the cliché that Jews always have money. The supporting cast members, all convincing in the varied roles, include Sylvie Testud, Eric Caravaca, Alka Balbir, Tony Harrison, Olivier Sitruk, Matthieu Boujenah and Olivier Barthélémy. The performances help achieve the documentary-style reality.
“24 Days” takes up where the headlines left off, revives the tale of an anti-Semitic kidnapping that should not be forgotten and gives it timely dramatic vibrancy and force as a taut movie thriller, the best chosen form for recounting the Halimi affair. A Menemsha Films release. Reviewed April 20, 2015.