Sunday, October 18, 2009

Film Review - Days Of Glory****

Spoilers ahead.

This film was retitled as Days Of Glory for the English speaking market, on its original release in France it was called Indigenes. Film makers continue to uncover WW2 true stories that have remained unknown to most of us, in this movie, director and writer Rachid Bouchareb tells the story of of group of Algerian men who sign up for the French army to liberate the motherland.

The men experience war much as you may have seen it in numerous other WW2 films (Saving Private Ryan, Enemy At The Gates etc.), it is harsh, cruel, dirty and painful. The Algerians though come to realise that all is not fair in war on two fronts, and that although they fight alongside forces from mainland France, they are not being given the same treatment and respect.

Early on, Corporal Abdelkader, played by Sami Bouajila, notices that in a mess line the African soldiers are not allowed fresh tomatoes when white French troops are, he loudly demands parity and nearly causes a revolt. The unit's white sergeant (and everyone of sergeant rank and above in the African forces seem to be white French) Roger Martinez (Bernard Blancan) is a man caught between a rock and hard place, he shouts down Abdelkader's protest, but then out of sight of the men he carries the protests to the colonel, demanding that his men be treated fairly. Later in the film we discover that Martinez has a North African mother, he reacts violently when one of the African soldiers discovers this and forces him to remain silent.

Bouchareb uses a clever artifice in the scene changes, each scene begins in black and white but then slowly changes to colour as the director reminds a young audience that although most of the reporting of the war you have seen is without colour, this actually happened in the same world that you and I see, a clever touch.

The film does not gloss over the horrors of war, but nor does it do the sort of war-gore porn that Saving Private Ryan revelled in, men get killed in Days Of Glory, but mostly the special effects wounds department are kept quiet so that the film can focus on the characters.

The Algerians continue to discover they are are treated much differently from the French regulars, Abdelkader is arrested after publicly demanding leave when they discover after 20 months of training and combat that the regular French forces have regular leave as well. They are forced, after promises from the colonel that they will be well rewarded, into a mission to deliver ammunition to the Americans. The US troops are never seen, and a prolonged firefight decimates the Algerians.

At the end of the film we see the aged Abdelkader 60 years after the war, he is living in a squalid single room in housing block, obviously in poverty. Before the credits roll we are told that the French Government froze the pensions of soldiers from outside mainland France, and that despite the soldiers finally winning a long series of legal battles, their pensions have not yet been paid.

This is a powerful and very moving film, it takes on the harsh realities of combat and the more tricky issues of racism and discrimination with a deft touch. The Algerians are all played well, and they are certainly not made out to be ill used angels either, just men who thought they were fighting for a common cause, well worth seeing.

Days Of Glory/Indigenes is in French and Arabic, but is subtitled in English throughout.

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