Days of Glory (2006 film)
|Days of Glory
|Directed by||Rachid Bouchareb|
|Distributed by||North America:
The Weinstein Company
UK Film Council
Days of Glory (French: Indigènes - "Natives"; Arabic: بلديون) is a 2006 French film directed by Rachid Bouchareb. The cast includes Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Mélanie Laurent and Bernard Blancan.
The film deals with the discriminatory treatment of North African soldiers serving in the Free French Forces during the Second World War. The film's release contributed to a partial recognition of the pension rights of soldiers from the former French colonies by the French government.
Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila and Bernard Blancan won the Prix d'interprétation masculine at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The film begins in North Africa where large numbers of indigènes (French Algerian Tirailleurs as well as Tunisian or Moroccan Goumiers) have been recruited into the French First Army of the Free French Forces, that has been formed to liberate France of the Nazi occupation in World War II.
Saïd, an impoverished goat herder, joins the 7th Algerian Tirailleur Regiment. With him are several other Berber men, including Yassir, who is seeking booty so that he can return home and his brother can marry; Messaoud, who wants to marry and settle in France; and literate Corporal Abdelkader, who is fighting for the equality and rights of the colonized Algerians.
Soon the men, dressed in lend-lease American uniforms meet Sergeant Martinez, a battle-hardened pied noir, who trains them before leading them on their first mission in the Italian Campaign. Their mission is to capture a heavily-defended mountain from the Germans. It soon becomes clear that their white commanding officer is using the colonial troops as cannon fodder to identify artillery targets. The African troops eventually succeed, but the tactics result in high casualties among the colonial troops. When asked by a French war correspondent about his thoughts on the losses, the white colonel replies, "today was a great victory for the Free French Forces".
The troops of the 7th ATR are transported to France to participate in Operation Dragoon to liberate the south of France. While aboard ship, a white cook refuses to give tomatoes to black soldiers. Abdelkader calls for equality but the mutiny is averted when Martinez and the company Captain assures everyone will be treated the same.
On arrival at Marseille, the colonial troops are greeted as heroes. Messaoud, meets and courts Irène, a French woman; When his regiment leaves, he promises to write and to return. She says she'll wait for him and they will marry. However, due to French censorship of mail between Arab men and white French women, Irène never learns Messaoud's fate.
Saïd becomes Martinez's orderly, for which the other soldiers call him "wench". Eventually, he snaps and holds a knife to Messaoud's throat. Abdelkader calms the situation, but Saïd makes it clear that in this segregated world the French authorities will not give their African soldiers anything. While drinking with the sergeant, Saïd mentions they are similar, as he had seen the picture of Martinez with his Arab mother; the NCO—a self-hating Arab—attacks him, and threatens to kill Saïd if he reveals this secret.
The colonial troops discover that while they are not allowed breaks, the white Free French Forces are given leave to return home in France. Eventually, the troops are told they are going home, but it's a ruse; instead, they are billeted behind the lines and given a ballet performance. Bored and disillusioned, most leave the tent and hold a meeting outside decrying the injustice. Martinez challenges the group, led by Abdelkader, and a fight starts.
Early the next morning, French MPs bring Messaoud to a temporary stockade where Abdelkader is also being held. Messaoud says he was arrested for trying to go back to Marseille and find Irène. Abdelkader is brought before the white Colonel who tells him that he needs him to go on a special mission: to take ammunition to American troops fighting in the Lorraine Campaign and also be the first French troops to liberate Alsace. The white officer promises that Abdelkader and the other African soldiers will get the rewards and recognition that success in this operation demands. Later, the white company captain tells the corporal that the colonel will keep his word.
Most of the men are killed by a booby trap, including Yassir's brother, as they cross the German lines. Martinez has been severely injured. Most of the troops want to return to their side, but Abdelkader rallies them to push on. Eventually, the corporal, Saïd, Messaoud, Yassir and Martinez reach an Alsatian village. Over the next few days the soldiers ingratiate themselves into the area, and Saïd befriends a milkmaid. A battle begins when a company of Germans arrive, and everyone except Abdelkader is killed. However just as the corporal is cornered more colonial troops arrive and drive the Germans out of the village.
As columns of Free French forces begin to move through the area, Abdelkader sees the colonel passing in his jeep, but the white commanding officer ignores him and he is pulled away by a staff officer who asks him where his unit is. When Abdelkader says they are all dead, he is simply assigned to another white NCO. As he walks out of the village, he passes a film cameraman filming only white troops standing by the liberated villagers.
The movie then moves to the present day. An elderly Abdelkader visits a war cemetery in Alsace to visit the graves of his comrades: Martinez, Saïd, Yassir and Messaoud. He then returns to his small rundown flat in modern-day France. The film then concludes with the caption to say that the servicemen from France's former colonies living in France had their pensions frozen in 1959 shortly before their various countries of origin's independence.
- Jamel Debbouze - Saïd Otmari
- Samy Naceri - Yassir
- Roschdy Zem - Messaoud Souni
- Sami Bouajila - Abdelkader
- Bernard Blancan - Sergent Roger Martinez
- Mathieu Simonet - Caporal Leroux
- Assaad Bouab - Larbi
- Benoît Giros - Capitaine Durieux
- Mélanie Laurent - Margueritte village Vosges
- Antoine Chappey - Le colonel
- Aurélie Eltvedt - Irène
- Thomas Langmann - Le journaliste
- Thibault de Montalembert - Capitaine Martin
- Dioucounda Koma - Touré (as Diouc Koma)
- Philippe Beglia - Rambert
- Kalen Bushe - Le 2eme colonel
While each has his own motives, these native Africans have enlisted to fight for a France they have never seen. In the words of Le Chant des Africains the four actors sing within the film, "we come from the colonies to save the motherland, we come from afar to die, we are the men of Africa." The film shows a complex depiction of their treatment in an army organisation prejudiced in favour of the European French.
The discrimination by the French authorities against these soldiers continued as successive French governments froze the war pensions of these indigenous veterans when their countries became independent. The closing credits of the film state that, despite the ruling that war pensions should be paid in full, successive French administrations since 2002 had not done so. It was only after the film's release that the government policy was changed to bring foreign combatant pensions into line with what French veterans are paid. But, as of 2010, no war pension in arrears (almost 40 years) have been considered.
In 2009, the BBC published documentary evidence that showed black colonial soldiers - who together with North African troops made up around two-thirds of Free French forces - were deliberately removed from the units that led the Allied advance to liberate Paris in 1944. General Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted Free French troops to enter the French capital first. In response Allied Command therefore insisted that all black soldiers should be replaced by white and North African ones from other French units.
Julian Jackson : "Once Vichy-ite Algeria had been conquered by the Allies, de Gaulle was finally allowed to go there, in May 1943. Now Algiers replaced London and Brazzaville as the capital of the Free French. Even more important was the fact that Algeria contained an important reservoir of North African troops. At the end of 1942 de Gaulle's total forces never numbered more than 50000, but now, in 1943, thanks to Algeria, he had an army of about half a million men. This multi-racial army was first thrown into battle in Italy in 1943 - it fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino - then landed with Americans in southern France in August 1944. But the Americans and British were agreed that for symbolic reasons the French should also be involved in operations in Normandy - for this reason the 2nd Armored Division of Leclerc was sent over to Britain from northern France, - in the words of one senior American general it was, 'the only French division which could be made 100% white'...Even if it was not at de Gaulle's instigation, it doesn't seem he particularly objected to this white-washing of the last stages of the Free French epic. The French were quick to forget that it was thanks to their colonial soldiers that they had any claim to have re-entered the war in 1944 as a great power." 
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- Days of Glory (2006) Channel 4 Film review, retrieved 2007-03-30
- The Independent Lichfield, John (2006-09-26). "Film moves Chirac to back down over war pensions". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2008-08-24.
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- Days of Glory at the Internet Movie Database
- Official Days of Glory website (English)
- More4 News report on the impact of Days of Glory