A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Rachid Bouchareb, 2007, France/Morocco/Algeria/Belgium, 128 mins, French with subtitles
Cast: Jamel Debbouze, Samy Na?eri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Bernard Blancan
Less a war movie than an account of social injustice set against the backdrop of WW2, an unfocused screenplay and uncertain characterisations sadly undermine Days of Glory’s good intentions. Director Rachid Bouchareb’s film concerns North African Muslims – such as the Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians – who were recruited to liberate what they considered, their French motherland. Amidst fierce battles with the German infantry, the soldiers ponder their identity as colonial subjects, some as pragmatists, others as fierce idealists anxious to claim their share of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity.’
It’s an important piece of history, ignored by mainstream cinema. Bouchareb deserves credit for bringing it to the screen and exposing the French government’s shameful “freezing” of war pensions for indigenous veterans of the Second World War. In 2004, President Chirac paid homage to colonial troops and around twenty African veterans were made Knights of the Legion of honour, but the question of the frozen pensions remains unresolved.
However, these revelations remain an aside. Bouchareb wastes too much time trotting out war movie clichés: Yassir’s (Na?eri) kid brother buys a bullet, Messaoud promises his girl he’ll return, so you know he’s doomed. Characters’ behaviour changes from one scene to the next, so often it seems pages were torn out of the script. The ensemble cast won a joint best actor award last year at Cannes, which might have more to do with the political situation in France. Debbouze has never been the most expressive of actors, leaving Saïd an enigma when he should be our eyes and ears. Is Saïd a fatalist, a dreamer, a family man, a rogue – who knows?
Bouajila excels as Abdelkader, the most idealistic of the soldiers, a sad-eyed, noble soul. His scenes – like the “tomato protest” in the mess hall – carry a real charge missing from the rest of the movie and best express its themes. Blancan does fine work as Martinez, even though his character remains frustratingly vague. He may or may not harbour a secret in his past; another instance where the screenplay drops the ball.
Aside from ear-splitting gunshots, the battle scenes lack the visceral impact of Saving Private Ryan (1998), but since Spielberg’s innovations have since been abused in too many, lacklustre action movies, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cynics might detect a touch of Ryan in the climactic battle and its aftermath, but one could argue that this film’s final scene – portraying an aged, desolate and embittered Abdelkader – packs a greater punch. If the rest of the film shared its sadness and profundity, it might really have been something.