Award-Winning Drama About North Africans Fighting for France
An unusual World War II movie, Days of Glory (2006) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is mainly in French with substantial amounts of dialogue spoken in Arabic. It's a good-looking movie with first-rate acting and at Cannes, the jury gave its best male actor award collectively to the ensemble performance of the film's five principals.
The story is about men from Algeria and Morocco who join the French army and participate in liberating France from the Nazis during 1944-1945. The sequence where these soldiers defend a village in Alsace against the Germans compares favorably with any combat sequence in any film. But Days of Glory isn't an ordinary war movie.
What gives the film its resonance for contemporary viewers is how difficult it is for the North Africans to get the respect they deserve. They are subjected to prejudice and unfair treatment at every turn. They can fight and die for France, but they still won't be considered worthy of liberty, equality and fraternity. This aspect of the movie is better captured by its original French title Indigènes, which translates to Natives.
Five Major Characters, Each of Roughly Equal Importance
Days of Glory follows five North African infantrymen: three Arabs, one Berber and a pied-noir (a North African of European descent). The pied-noir is a tough-as-nails sergeant who's in charge of the unit that includes the other four men. A peculiar relationship develops when the diminutive Saïd, one of the Arabs, begins to function as a personal servant to the sergeant. The other soldiers start to ride Saïd by calling him Aïcha, after one of the prophet Mohammed's wives.
The film doesn't have a central character, but the closest to that is Abdelkader, an Arab who is the most intelligent and best educated of the five. When a black soldier is denied a tomato because of prejudice, Abdelkader courageously takes a forceful stand to try to put an end to this kind of discrimination.
The romantic of the group is Messaoud, an Arab who challenges the social system by getting into a love affair with a pretty Frenchwoman who lives in Marseilles.
And finally, there's Yassir, the Berber. He tries to teach his younger brother to respect the religion of others, which includes refraining from stealing the money from a church's collection box.
The film's combat sequences depict all five principal characters as performing heroically in combat. But the movie has an epilogue showing one of them 60 years later, a sad old man living in a tiny room in a gloomy section of some French city. Text appears on the screen stating that the pensions of soldiers from former French colonies had been frozen since 1959. However, according to the BBC and other Internet sources, Days of Glory so moved French president Jacques Chirac and his wife that the pensions were unfrozen.
A Making-Of Featurette and a Short Film
The Days of Glory DVD provides a 24-minute French-language making-of featurette on the movie. We hear from director/co-writer Rachid Bouchareb, who tells of getting major support from the Kingdom of Morocco, including thousands of soldiers and lots of military equipment. Also, we get to see the actors who portray Saïd, Yassir, Messaoud and Abdelkader. The only one of these actors who seems at all likely to be familiar to English-speakers is Jamel Debbouze, who plays Saïd. Debbouze is best known for comedy and has appeared in Amélie, She Hate Me and Angel-A.
Also on the DVD is Bouchareb's short film "The Colonial Friend," which has a run time of a little under nine minutes. This uses a graphic novel-like form to tell the grim tale of Senegalese infantrymen who served in the French army in 1940 and then spent four years as prisoners of the Germans. But in 1944 when the Senegalese demanded their pay for their military service, they were massacred.
Below I've listed the details for the DVD containing Days of Glory.
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Widescreen (1.85:1), Color
Feature Film Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for War Violence and Brief Language
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Making-Of Featurette (24 min.)
Short Film: "The Colonial Friend" (9 min.)