Indigènes - Days of Glory
|Bernard Blancan||Sergeant Martinez|
|Directed by||Rachid Bouchareb|
There has always been a market for war movies, just as there has always been a market for wars. We judge these movies by how realistically and viscerally they show men killing each other. We also like a little human interest, a little background. Who are these guys? Where do they come from? What are they fighting for?
We sell the wars and the movies with ad campaigns, and generally the bottom line is the same: profit. Sometimes art figures in, and sometimes worthy ideals like freedom or survival are a part of the package. Patriotism, that last refuge of scoundrels, is ballyhooed. God is said to be on our side. But whether it?s a real war or a war movie, you can be pretty sure that someone somewhere is making a buck, or intending to, and that without that the thing probably never would have happened.
Days of Glory (Indig?nes) is a war movie about the North Africans of the French Expeditionary Corps who fought in segregated troops for the French Army from 1943 to the end of WWII. It?s Battle Cry in a burnoose. Instead of guys named Danny and Polack and Sol and Brooklyn, you?ve got guys named Said and Yassir and Messaoud and Abdelkader. But it?s the same deal. Prick them, do they not bleed? Blow them up, do their limbs not scatter and their guts not spill?
The difference, of course, is that these are men who are fighting and dying for a cause and a country in which they are not full participants. We begin with a robed, hooded Arab striding through the dusty, narrow streets of an Algerian village exhorting young men to volunteer for the army. ?We must save France!? he cries. ?We must save the fatherland!? There?s an immediate sense of disconnect here. What does France have to do with this place?
The answer is that France was at the time a colonial power in North Africa. The French had conquered and subjugated these people, and raised them in the traditions of libert?, egalit?, and fraternit?, minus the libert?, egalit?, and fraternit?. Late in the movie, in a painfully heavy-handed bit of dialogue, a young Algerian soldier asks his older brother ?When I was little, French soldiers killed our whole family. What did they call it?? His brother replies ?Pacification.?
The wonder is that these Muslim Arabs, most of whom had never seen France and wouldn?t know a baguette from a bidet, should have had any feelings of patriotism for the occupying power. But they did, apparently, and they fought bravely for the country that treated them as an inferior race. It is surely no accident that the distributors of Indig?nes gave it an English language title with such obvious echoes of Edward Zwick?s 1986 movie Glory, about the first company of African-Americans fighting for the Union in America?s Civil War.
By WWII, the descendants of those black soldiers were still in segregated units in the U.S. Army, fighting and dying for a country that refused them the simple dignities of equal citizenship. And here, we see the Arab soldiers derided as wogs, passed over for leave and promotion, and used as expendable cannon fodder in the most dangerous, suicidal assignments, while their French officers watch the slaughter through binoculars from the safe remove of a nearby hillside.
And for all this, they don?t even get the tomatoes in the mess tent, until Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), their bookish, fiercely intelligent leader, demands equality with the French in the food line.
They do better with the tomatoes in Provence. The Arab troops are greeted as liberators, and gangly Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) finds himself in a romance with a pretty French girl named Ir?ne (Aur?lie Eltvedt). He can?t believe his luck, and tells her ?In my country, we don?t go with French women.?
On the whole, this movie by French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb is well written and solidly made. The acting is excellent, the characters are sharply drawn, the battle scenes are executed with skill and excitement, the message of intolerance and injustice is clear and disturbing. Indig?nes was Algeria?s official entry in Oscar?s Foreign Language division
It?s a good war movie, but it?s a war movie, and if you are familiar with war movies you will not find a scene here that you haven?t seen before. The ending is pure Saving Private Ryan, and the rest is something from here and something from there. The message of injustice is powerful, but the fact is that the injustice shown here is not unique. Racism is a terrible thing, but it is not only the ethnically repressed who find themselves fighting in wars for the promise of a piece of the pie at a table where they will never be asked to sit. Our current occupation of Iraq is being fought disproportionally by the sons and daughters of the disadvantaged, while our politicians and captains of industry keep their children safe at home and reap the spoils of war.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be