Algeria, 1943, through Italy and France, to Alsace in early 1945, with a coda years later. Arabs volunteer to fight Nazis to liberate France, their motherland. We follow Saïd, dirt poor, an orderly for a grizzled sergeant, Martinez, a pied noir with some willingness to speak up for his Arab troops; Messaoud, a crack shot, who in Province falls in love with a French woman who loves him back; and Abdelkader, a corporal, a budding intellectual with a keen sense of injustice. The men fight with courage against a backdrop of small and large indignities: French soldiers get better food, time for leave, and promotions. Is the promise of liberty, equality, and fraternity hollow? Written by
This film's closing epilogue states: "In 1959, a law was passed to freeze the pensions of infantrymen from former French colonies about to become independent. In 2002, after endless hearings, the French government was ordered to pay the pensions in full. But successive governments have pushed back this payment." See more »
When Abdelkader and Yassir carry the bodies of killed soldiers in a cart to bury them, Yassir rests his gun against the wheel. In the next shot, the gun falls to the ground from a completely different position. See more »
Days of Glory (Indigénes) can boast that it was the most important if not the most successful of the five films in the Oscars' Best Foreign Film category. After French Premier Jacques Chirac saw the film, he agreed to compensate all North Africans who fought in World War II by unfreezing their pensions, a result the director Rachid Bouchareb worked hard to achieve. Though conventional in its technique and lacking in any real character development, Days of Glory, a French Moroccan Algerian co-production, is an involving and heartfelt film whose outstanding ensemble cast won the award for Best Actor at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
The film depicts a group of North African volunteers who enlist in the French army to support the French resistance against the Nazis during World War II. The fact that they are fighting for a lesser group of colonial oppressors against a more virile one does not enter their mind and they are ecstatic with the thrill of being on French soil for the first time. Their shabby treatment, however, by bigots in the French army who deny them the privileges that they take for granted becomes the centerpiece of the film. Unlike the French, the North African recruits are not granted leave to visit their families, are not promoted, and are not even allowed tomatoes with their dinner.
The film opens in 1943 as the enlisted men say goodbye to their families in Algeria, Morocco, and Senegal to join the fight against the Germans. Bouchareb follows four men: Said (James Debbouze), a young Algerian is moved to enlist by a recruiter's sloganeering and his own desire to escape his economic hardship; Yassir (Samy Naceri) who joins in Morocco even though he cannot help being bitter toward the French government that killed his family in the name of pacification.
We later meet Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), a solid marksman who falls for a young French woman but their correspondence is intercepted and censored by the French and his "no luck" tattoo on his neck turns out to be prophetic. The strongest character in the film is Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), whose outspokenness against the injustice shown to North African soldiers keeps him from being promoted but earns him a strong following. Said develops a close relationship with Sergeant Martinez (Bernard Blancan), a by the book Captain who nonetheless speaks up for the dedication of his men but when Said happens to suggest that Martinez is part Arab, their relationship ends swiftly and dramatically.
The high point of the film is the battle for a village in Alsace. It is a tense, emotionally harrowing sequence that is the equal of anything in Saving Private Ryan. Days of Glory has a strong point of view but is not didactic. It simply lets us see the face of discrimination against Arab soldiers during the war and the tension that arose in the French army because of it, a harbinger of colonial wars and urban tensions to follow. While the film unfortunately ends on a clichéd note, it is still quite moving and makes sure the brave soldiers from North Africa are acknowledged for their contribution, sadly overlooked these many years.
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