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  Publicity Stills of "Days of Glory"
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

WINNER of BEST ACTOR Award (Ensemble Cast) at Cannes Film Festival 2006

In French with English Subtitles
Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Starring: Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila
RunTime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: NC16 (War Violence)

Opening Day: 26 October 2006 (The Picturehouse)


1944-1945… The liberation of Italy, Provence, the Alps, the Rhone Valley, the Vosges and Alsace marked vital stages in the Allied victory… And in the place that France was able to take among the Allies following the Armistice. This victorious and bloody march on Germany was carried out by the 1st French Army, recruited in Africa to sidestep the German occupiers and the officials of the Vichy regime: 200,000 men, including 130,000 "natives" comprising 110,000 North Africans and 20,000 Black Africans… The rest of the force was made up of French North Africans, for two-thirds, and of young Frenchmen who had fled the Occupation. The film tells the forgotten story of the so-called "native" soldiers through the epic experiences of four among them.

Movie Review:

"Unknown stories", "forgotten battles," there are plenty in history, even WWII probably the most studied war is no exception. It's not a well known fact that the French army consisted in the final years of the war to nearly 50% of Africans and Maghrebinerns. Finally a long-neglected story is told in Indigénes (Days of glory) helmed by Rachid Bouchareb. That's certainly no failing: a tribute to the sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of North Africans drafted into the French army to help liberate la patrie, the film deploys a linear narrative and vividly drawn characters to chart the experiences of a handful of Algerians and Moroccans as they make their perilous way through Italy, Provence and the Vosges to Alsace. Coupled with the superb performances - Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila shared the Cannes Best Actor prize - this results in strong, clear storytelling, so that by the time we get to an expertly mounted encounter with the Nazis in a half-abandoned village, we care deeply about the fates of the main characters.

Staged as a series of vignettes rather than a character study or historical epic, the film is painfully aware of its important political duty to remind France of its unjust treatment of its ‘other’ soldiers, much to the detriment of character and story development. With a cast headed by comedian-turned-serious-actor Jamel Debouzze (Amélie), the film is sure to attract audience attention in Europe, while the serious subject matter will demand respect and reflection. As ‘just’ a genre film however, Indigènes is strangely uninvolving and distant until its last battle that it finally creates the suspense, heartbreak and gut-punch one might expect from a war film. Since it is hard to become emotionally involved with characters whose personalities look like sketches for political pamphlets, the film’s structure feels too loose to create any forward momentum. Scenes are built around moments of premeditated humiliation from outside, not around the accumulative experiences of who these people really are and what they believe or come to believe in.

The battles, focused on infantry actions, while competently filmed to the standard set by films like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers , are not the focus of the film. In fact, there is not a whole lot of fighting in Indigènes, which leaves the characters more than enough time to reflect on the second-class soldiers treatment that France – the country that is not truly theirs but for which the are fighting and putting their lives on the line – is giving them. In a scene aboard a ship on the Meditteranean, the titular indigènes (literally “the indigenous”) are not allowed to have the tomatoes that the mainland French soldiers are getting for dinner. Abdelkader is outraged and decides that everyone or no-one should have them, setting the scene for all things is to come. The problem of the screenplay, which was written by the director together with Olivier Lorelle, is that in making sure that the film’s main point is made clear, the characters and especially Abdelkader, are drawn as walking indignations rather than convincing people or even recognizable clichés.

Writer-director Bouchareb has chosen a lofty subject matter for his film and a fine cast of French-African actors, including Samy Naceri (from the Taxi franchise) as the sensible Yassir, Roschdy Zem (Le petit lieutenant/The Young Lieutenant) as the romantic Messaoud who falls in love with a French girl, Sami Bouajila (Embrassez qui vous voudrez) as the ambitious Corporal Abdelkader and the aforementioned Debouzze as the somewhat clueless but nevertheless endearing subordinate Saïd. Their story is told in small scenes: the recruitment in their home countries (which were then colonies of France), their perfunctory training, their first battle experience and the long waits around campfires and in snow-covered forests in between one attack or ambush and the next.

It would be wrong, however, to infer that the film's merely a French Saving Private Ryan; as the final moments make all too clear, its scathing critique of the racism, exploitation and injustices perpetrated on the North Africans by the French they were helping remains as relevant to the present as to the past. While not destined to be remembered as a "great" film, it does a decent job of publicising the "forgotten heroes."

Movie Rating:

(A different view of a long forgotten war story that yearns to be remembered..)

Review by Lokman B S


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