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Days Of Glory
cast: Jamel Debbouze, Sami Naceri, Roschdy Zem, and Sami Bouadila

director: Rachid Bouchareb

119 minutes (12) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
The Second World War was so vast that it offers filmmakers an almost endless variety of options. Many are merely attempts at action movies, with some fine films resulting from that. Others have come at us with a message. Of course, it is part of the compact with the viewer that the later group must excite the senses as well, as a dull war film will be watched by no one, regardless of its good intentions. Days Of Glory (or Indigènes, as it is known in France), is a rattling good war film, and it packs a powerful punch. We'll reveal how powerful it has been later on.

The story arc concerns the North African troops who joined the French army after the liberation of North Africa by the British and Americans. France had fallen in 1940 and its armed forces were in disgrace. The free French forces under De Gaulle still fought on, but were hampered by a lack of manpower, and when the French colonies were liberated from the Nazis, they started to recruit from the native people of those lands. Eventually a quarter of a million would join up, but Rachid Bouchareb's film focuses on four Algerian men who join up to help liberate a motherland that none of them has ever seen.

Amongst them is the insecure little gutter-rat Sa�d who is played with great verve by Jamel Debbouze. I wasn't going to mention this as it'll pull you out of the film slightly, but, on reflection, it's better to get it over with, as you will probably notice that something is up by the end. In a piece of audacity that puts Peter Falk's glass eye to shame, Debbouze, a one-armed actor, plays the part of a two-armed soldier. Saïd is adopted by the tough Sergeant Martinez (played with Duval-like intensity by Bernard Blancan), although Martinez has his own demons to deal with.

After training, the colonial troops are sent to Italy where they are first blooded and they acquit themselves admirably. The landscape of their first battle, however, remains transparently that of the film location in Morocco. In all other ways, though, it is admirably executed. Bouchareb uses the movement of sunlight over the landscape to signify the passage of time in a way that is reminiscent of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (arguably the finest war film ever made), but whereas Malick's focus was on the indifference of nature to the horrors of man, Bouchareb emphasises the strength that his soldiers can draw on from their religion. The fact that the initial assault is on a hill gives us another similarity to Malick, and it is almost a shock when we see that the enemy is wearing German field grey.

The troops have proved themselves, but, as the action moves to the south of France, they find that they are regarded as second-class soldiers. They are given inferior rations and equipment, and are passed over for promotion and leave. They stand up for their rights as best as they can but at no time does their loyalty to the cause weaken. This could come across as heavy handed, but is it? Can I inject a personal note here? A couple of years ago I went on holiday to Nice. A great holiday, great people, great galleries, great bars, and a great hotel, too - just a couple of blocks away from the National Front office... Britain may have problems with racism, but can you imagine a BNP street-front office in a British city? I had to keep reminding myself that one in four of these wonderful, charming people had just voted for Le Pen. So, no, Bourchareb and his co-writer, Olivier Lorelle, were probably not over-egging it.

The action advances to the Alsace campaign in January 1945 and climaxes with a stunning, heart-breaking section assault on a village. There follows a contemporary war graves coda. One's first thought is that it is a straight lift from the likes of Saving Private Ryan before Bourchareb hits us with a final punch. When the French colonies were gaining their independence, around 1960 or so, the French government decided to freeze the pensions of the veterans from those states. And here's the beautiful thing about this film. When French president Jacques Chirac saw Days Of Glory, he decided to reverse the decision. So there you have it: a film that has made a difference.

There are copious extras, several of which feature interviews with veterans. There is a 56-minute making-of documentary, the cinema trailer, a Q&A section with Bourchareb that was filmed during a cinema presentation, historical notes (including a piece on the similar mistreatment of the Ghurkhas by the British government), and there are also film notes that can be accessed by computer (but not by my antique piece of valve-powered crud). Advertisements are naturally provided. One is for Saints And Soldiers but the other is, with what is surely deliberate irony, for The Battle Of Algiers. Now there's a double bill that's just asking to be shown sometime.
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