Do We Not Bleed, Do We Not Die?
Directed, produced and co-written by Alexandre Arcady, 24 Hours/24 jours is brutal and has raised hackles among those who find it Le Pen xenophobic. Conversely, others praise its use of a black woman to pull her car over to help the destroyed young man, but some underline France’s history of anti-Semitism or on the other hand decry Jewish pain paraded as outweighing that of others.
Its ending known beforehand and reinforced by scores of other recent events, the story nevertheless unfolds as a suspenseful thriller rather than docudrama, much of the credit for which goes to Manu de Sousa’s jumpy editing. It is surprising, therefore, that critics on both poles of the spectrum appear not to have taken into their accounts the still, calm coda in which Ruth Halimi (Zabou Breitman) sits in Ilan Halimi Park and, after “I would like Ilan’s death to serve as an alert,” acknowledges the many messages of solidarity from mothers the world over, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Muslim.
The setup, kidnapping, inhumane treatment and dumping of her son may be taken as yet another manifestation of Europe’s old but recrudescent persecution of the Chosen People: the cell-phone shop’s closing for Sabbath as identification, the idea that Jews are rich and ripe for ransoming, the failed attempt on Alain Stern (Ronald Reznik), the contacting of a rabbi (Moshé Elbaze), the derogatory epithets. “He hates our sacred nation.”
Higher-ups decline to recognize this until, too late, public indignation forces them to. However, one could argue that the impetus for the horrific act was entirely economic and that generic hatred made it worse but no more obscene than similar outrages, extortions or revenge in Mexico and Italy.
What is first incomprehensible, as well as chilling, to the well-acted characters and gendarmerie is, as observed, that this occurs in contemporary (February 2006) Paris, which might be any city. The co-written memoir of the horror and aftermath that is here screen adapted, does posit anti-Semitism as the root cause. However one chooses to take this dramatization, it does not paint a pretty picture and even carries that beyond the grave.
The middle-class Halimis are modern, moderately observant, assimilated but distinguishable. Wary of one another long after divorcing, Ruth and Didier (Pascal Elbé) both have to earn a living, and he has only just begun to reconnect with Ilan (Syrus Shahidi) and Yaël (Alka Balbir), who refuses to work for the same low wages as her slightly older brother. Ilan cares for girlfriend Mony (Audrey Giacomini) but is flattered and aroused by the sexy woman who asks for his phone number, invites him to meet her, and licks whipped cream off his pinky. Along with others, she is a “lure,” decoying lustful incautious men into places where they can be sandbagged and captured.
A sane film where mobile phones are integral rather than cheap exposition, 24 Days develops over six to seven hundred threatening calls to the family in twenty days. Torture is graphic but thankfully not pictured at length, first in an apartment and then the basement of a low-end immigrant housing project. The Arabs and black Africans who make up the Gang of Barbarians are repellant, and it may well be their ruthlessness that quells any neighbors’ notions of informing.
Uneasy when a promised three days stretch into three weeks and more, the criminals are cowed and commanded by “Django” Youssouf Fofana, so obscene and angry that, even when you are reminded he is actor Tony Harrisson, he scares you. From Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and then Paris, he taunts the family, changes demands from one second to another, gloats, struts and plays mind games with Didier that come to seem as important as the money.
Police Commandant Delcour (Jacques Gamblin) insists the affair is crime but not hate crime and treads eggshells keeping secret the 24/7 involvement of hundreds of dedicated officers. Tension builds within the family and within the police, and between the two. There is no need for standard scenes where the ringleader is stopped and let go or where he escapes into the Metro -- which no one could know, memoir-based or not. The strains reach breaking point and cannot be postponed by soothing but in the end ineffectual government psychiatrists.
Akin to Z in use of location and in editing, 24 Days will also excite passions like that Costa-Gavras work on the score of topicality. That will, though should not, obscure its effectiveness as modern-day suspense that works despite the fact that there can be no suspense as to outcome.
(Released by Menemsha Films; not rated by MPAA.)