24 DAYS: The True Story of the Ilan Halimi Affair

Directed by Alexandre Arcady

Usually, when you think of going to the movies, it's usually something fun or adventurous, sci-fi dazzle or romantic razzle, something you can immerse yourself in harmlessly for a few hours while nibbling on popped kernels of your favorite salty air-popped corn snack. And it is slightly gruesome to see films like this, which are thinly scripted true stories of a grisly episode in Paris 2006. It was there that a telephone salesperson, lured into a honeypot assignation by a pretty moll of one of the gang men paid to seduce a specific fellow, captured the prey a gang of thugs in the banlieux were seeking: A single male, Jewish, abductible for money from his presumably "rich Jewish family."

The entire sordid plan was premised on the absurd belief that every Jewish family, you name them, has millions stashed away, ready to convert into liquid assets and cash at the drop of a cell phone call.

The title tells it all. For 24 days, this gang of motley ne'er-do-wells, North African émigrés, street criminals, aimless Muslim 20-nothings, hangabouts and grafter losers tortured Ilan Halimi, kept him tied up and near starving, while the head tough, a nasty piece of work from cote D'Ivoire, called Halimi's family every few minutes demanding first one ransom, then another. Even with the French constabulaire brought in, these men and women seemed more like Keystone Kops, Paris variety, than thoughtful professional crime-fighters. They resolutely failed, after endless evidence to support the theory, that the thugs were perpetrating a specifically anti-Semitic act. It took months, almost, for the calls and notes and ancillary evidence to finally penetrate that this was no "random" act against just anyone.

The family and Ilan's fiancée steam, worry, weep, plead and simmer in its pain and anxiety about their beloved son. The police direct the father to respond, not respond, answer the clamoring calls, hundreds and hundreds of them, not answering.

It is more harrowing because we already know from the outset that no matter how stalwart and stiff upper lip the Halimi family may be, there will be no happy ending. Even if there is no payoff. Even if the execrable perpetrators get no satisfaction.

Awful epilogue: Like the unlikely but true Kitty Genovese story that occurred in NYC decades ago, March 1964, where hundreds of people heard her cries for help not once but over many minutes, yet could not bestir themselves to call the police. Here, over 700 people lived around the apartments where Halimi was being tortured and abused. No one called the cops. No one reported strangulated sounds or the goings and comings of darkly unwholesome men over three and a half weeks. In Paris, one of the supposedly sophisticated capitals of the world. In the 21st century.

There were psychobabble theories brought into the language to accommodate the shocking desensitization and failures of neighbors to help: They call it "the bystander effect" and "diffusion of responsibility."

Somebody else will help. Me? I'm going to watch the tube….





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