Days of Glory (Indigenes) Review
by Marty Wurst
December 8, 2006
Note: Please welcome our new Los Angeles correspondent Marty Wurst who will be covering some of the smaller limited releases and plenty more from LA. Check out the About Us section for a bit more about him, including his top 10 films and favorite director. Enjoy his first review!
Indigenes, in English titled Days of Glory, is a movie that has already achieved greatness by getting the French government to release the once frozen pensions to foreign soldiers who fought in the French army during WWII. Apparently their participation was left out of the history books.
Days of Glory focuses on a group of African/Arab volunteers in World War II that are subject to much racism and bigotry within the French army ranks even though they were willing to fight for a country they never stepped foot on. Among them is Messaoud Souni (Roschdy Zem), who falls for a French woman, but never hears back from her no matter how much he writes. It's later discovered that her letters are being kept from him. Saïd Otmari (Jamel Debbouze) has come from living in poverty and wants nothing more than to fight for France, against his mother's wishes. This is a terrific showcase for Jamal Debbouze, a comic actor who recently had a part in Spike Lee's She Hate Me and turns in a very nice performance here. Yassir (Samy Naceri) is fighting to gain fortune (even removing jewelry from dead soldiers' hands) so he can put it towards his brother's wedding. Larbi (Assaad Bouab) is his beloved brother and the two of them fight side-by-side for family honor.
There's also Sergeant Martinez (Bernard Blancan in a stand-out performance) who insists that the "natives" are to be addressed as "the men" like everyone else. His father-son-like relationship with Saïd is particularly engrossing; Saïd is a soldier he supports but refuses to promote because of his insecurities and inner-demons. One stand-out moment occurs when Saïd makes a joke to the Sergeant that they could be brothers after discovering a photograph of his Arab mother - this triggers a startling reaction that I won't soon forget.
There are a lot of confrontational scenes involving the North African soldiers and the French depriving them of the things they should be entitled to, such as tomatoes and time of leave off base. They really hammer the second-rate treatment into the ground, but the actors make it utterly convincing. This movie has its quiet, poignant moments, intense battles and then a conclusion that nearly kills it. I didn't buy certain situations, but doesn't mean it wasn't performed well. Everyone in the cast is great - all across the board, it's just that the writing is a little shoddy and leaves the actors as clichÃ© one-dimensional war story characters we've seen before. That's minor nit-picking though, as there's a lot of great filmmaking found in Days of Glory.
What it comes down to at the end is this: the climax scene involving the soldiers fighting a German battalion in a tiny village. The Germans have a rocket launcher. The North African soldiers don't. So you can imagine who has the upper hand. I rarely bite my nails anymore but halfway through this scene I had really chewed them down - very exciting. The sound design gets your heart pumping and I was really rooting for these guys because by the end of the movie I actually cared about them. Director of Photography Patrick Blossier deserves applause for a beautifully shot film - the forest scenes, crazy overhead mountain shots, and more, all really take advantage of the widescreen ratio and give you a sense of an eagle's eye view of war - amazing stuff.
I'm glad I saw this movie, but can't help but be a little disappointed. too. It's definitely worth checking out - the performances, cinematography and climax showdown are all top-notch, but don't expect a lot of complex characterizations or blood because it's fairly subdued. This is no Saving Private Ryan, which is actually a good thing. Unfortunately, the very last scene is like Saving Private Ryan, so bolt from your seat the minute you see a headstone.