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24 Days (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

24 Days

24 Days

24 DAYS (24 JOURS) (2014)

Starring Zabou Breitman, Pascal Elbé, Jacques Gamblin, Sylvie Testud, Éric Caravaca, Syrus Shahidi, Tony Harrisson, Alka Balbir, Pauline Cheviller, Olivier Sitruk, Olivier Sitruk, Ronald Reznik, Audrey Giacomini, Matthieu Boujenah and Mickaël Guigui.

Screenplay by Alexandre Arcady, Emilie Frèche and Antoine Lacomblez.

Directed by Alexandre Arcady.

Distributed by Menemsha Pictures.  109 minutes.  Not Rated.

Paris is arguably my favorite place in the world, however I have not been there since 2004.  This is at least partially due to reports of a huge upswing of anti-Semitism in the city in recent years.

24 Days is a tense docudrama based on the tragic kidnapping, torture and murder of a young Jewish man named Ilan Halimi (played here by Syrus Shahidi) which took place in Paris in 2006.  Ilan went out for a hook-up with a girl he met at his job as a cell phone salesman, but he had been set up to be jumped by four members of a multi-racial gang who called themselves The Barbarians.  The group held Halimi hostage in a ghetto high rise apartment complex, beating, torturing and starving him for three weeks as they erratically tried to negotiate a ransom with his family and friends – they even reached out to the local rabbi who barely knew him.

The film is based upon the 2009 memoir by Halimi’s mother Ruth, about the criminal act that destroyed her life.  As such if gives you a fly on the wall look at a family slowly being shattered.  Ruth (Zabou Breitman) and her estranged ex-husband Didier (a heartbreaking Pascal Elbé) disagree on how to handle the situation of getting their son back.  Ruth wants to pay the kidnappers whatever they ask for – which the lower-middle class family really can’t afford – even though the hot-headed leader of the Barbarians throws out different amounts with crazed regularity.

Didier, on the other hand, feels that the police are the best way of finding their son and the police insist that he should not pay ransom.  Instead they instruct Didier on how to deal with the unhinged leader (Tony Harrisson), a constantly furious African who can not stand to be defied.  Didier must act much as someone much harder than he feels in hope of – as the police psychiatrist says – getting the upper hand in the negotiation.

But there is no upper hand, just a series of fits and starts.  Time goes slowly, and despite several near misses, the kidnappers always seem to be one step ahead of the police and the family becomes more and more desperate to find Ilan while he is still alive.

The film mostly – probably for the best – downplays some of the horrific abuse which Ilan suffered at the hands of his captors.  (What happens here is rather terrible, but not close to the sheer barbarity of what really happened to Ilan Halimi.)

Written and directed by veteran French director Alexandre Arcady (father of respected French horror director Alexandre Aja, who did some second unit work here), 24 Hours tells a taut and heartbreaking story of a family’s loss and the police’s impotence in such a fraught situation.

However, while the film spends much of its running time vilifying the gendarmes for not acknowledging that the kidnapping is an anti-Semitic hate crime, it forgets to answer this very basic question: Even if the police admitted it was anti-Semitism up front, how would it have changed what happened?  Would the police have handled the case any differently?  Would the tragic ending have been averted?

Sadly, probably nothing would have changed, no matter what term was used to describe the crime.  Yes, it was anti-Semitism, but that knowledge is not going to make him any easier for the police to find.  To them, for better or worse, that was just a matter of semantics, and a term that would just inflame passions on both sides.

Even the anti-Semitism in this case was a bit nuanced.  These weren’t glowering in-your-face neo-Nazis or Palestinians that hated Jews due to perceived past religious slights or as a political stance.  These were a bunch of sociopathic animals that were stupid enough to mistakenly buy into the stereotype because a kid was Jewish he must be rich, and thus would fetch a better ransom.  They seemed to be in it for the money, not necessarily out of prejudice.  His Judiasm seems to have made him a victim due to his captors’ ignorance, not due to a deep-seeded hatred of his people.

They still should have been charged with hate crimes, and they were.  The criminals will get a longer sentence just because they targeted a man specifically for his religion, as it should be.  What their motivation to do it was doesn’t make a bit of difference.

There are no winners in 24 Days.  Everyone is destroyed by an idiotic plot which never had a chance of succeeding.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: April 24, 2015.

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