Days of Glory (Indigènes) (8/10)
by Tony Medley
This is an exceptionally
well-made war movie based on a true story. And that true story is how
Algerian Muslims fought for France in World War II even though none of
them had ever been in France. Algeria was a colony of France at the
The film opens with a
touching scene as Saїd (Jamel Debbouze) is leaving his mother in their
poverty-stricken village to join the French army. There he teams up with
fellow Muslims Yassir (Samy Nacery), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), and
Abdelkader (Sami Bouajula). They are serving under the stern hand of
Sergeant Martinez (Bernard Blancan).
The men taste battle, endure
hardships, and face endemic discrimination, all of which are presented
in a realistic manner, although the way one of them combats the
discrimination seems to me would have been subject to court-martial in
any normal army.
Like American films, this
Algerian effort is too long and contains a bit too much talking,
although it did hold my interest. The battle with the Germans in Alsace
at the end is as brilliant a battle sequence as you will see in a movie.
It’s brutal and tough without being unnecessarily graphic.
There is a dubious love
affair, an overnight stand that one of the Muslims has with a French
girl after liberating a town. But the way that they moon for one another
after spending just a single night together strains credulity, as does
their meeting and instant coupling. But, maybe that’s the way things
happen in a World War.
There is a particularly
telling commentary on World War II France when an officious French
official is ordering one of the officers how to treat one of the Muslims
who was in trouble. The officer asks the official if he was from Vichy
and the official bristles as he turns on his heel and storms out without
Director Rachid Bouchareb has
done an exceptional job of capturing the spirit of Olivier Lorelle’s
script, aided by outstanding acting, especially by Jamel Debbouze, who
plays the illiterate Saїd compassionately, and Bernard Blancan, who
portrays Sergeant Martinez as a hard, but occasionally understanding
authority figure for the loyal, but abused Muslims.
The purpose of the movie is
to show how ungratefully the French treated these people who risked and
sacrificed their lives for a country they had never seen. There were
130,000 “indigenous” people from the French colonies who served in the
French armed forces during the war. The government terminated all
pension payments to them in 1959, but was ordered by a court in the
mid-90s to pay up. According to a scrawl at the end of the movie, which
was sort of ambiguous, it seemed to me to say that these people have
still only received between 10% and 30% of what their French
counterparts who fought in World War II have received. One of the
purposes of the movie is to shame French President Jacques Chirac to pay
them. From what I know of Chirac, the only way they’ll get him to do
that is if they offer him something that will allow him to gain
personally, like half of what they receive.
This is filmmaking the way it
should be, a good, action-packed war movie with admirable character
development, one that informs while it entertains.
January 4, 2007