Drawing influences from Saving Private Ryan and Jarhead, Algeria’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar contender, “Indigenes” (Days of Glory), presents a sweeping war epic resplendent with devastating morality issues and consuming infantry battles. Creeping into an overly long running time, the film doesn’t forget to develop heartfelt, august characters and stirring situations that question the motives of war and the jarring injustices oftentimes rendered.
Four North African men (Roschdy Zem, Samy Naceri, Jamel Debbouze and Sami Bouajila) enlist to help the French destroy the rising Nazism during World War II. Through vicious battles and disquieting downtime in France, the soldiers realize that what each fights for is entirely different and altogether misinformed.
Days of Glory examines the morality and motives of war with proper attention and sentimentality. The four main characters each have their reasons for joining and preconceived ideas of what they are fighting for. The analyzation of these motives is a main theme of the film and serves well to advance the story. Sami Bouajila is particularly intriguing due to his leadership skills and drive for equality and advancement in the ranks. At times even he is unsure of what he fights for; his fight is often for a symbolic purpose that appears ever-changing. He believes that the liberation of France will personally benefit him and his people, which is unnervingly shattered as the film draws to its conclusion. He also believes in doing the right thing. But faced with pressures from his battalion and pressures from the French leaders, doing the right thing is an inconsistent factor. Due recognition and the celebration of achieving his goals are cut short when he realizes the moral and obligatory stance of the French. What he achieves in the end is nearly nothing, and he is left only with the reflection of his sacrifices and the deaths of his comrades; years later he still struggles for a piece of what was rightly his. The other three characters are magnificently developed, each fighting for revenge, the opportunity to go home a hero, and for simple appreciation.
The other prominent theme in the film is equality. The little known situation of North African segregation and prejudices during the war is admirably addressed, presenting notable injustices served to soldiers who willingly sacrificed their lives for France. A line spoken by one of the stars perhaps best sums up their constant struggle: “German bullets don’t pick and choose their targets”. Treated as inferior to the French troops, numerous North African soldiers who fought just as bravely and vigilantly failed to receive proper treatment, supplies, rations and leave, and were resolutely snubbed of the recognition that would have appeased a great many of them.
The film takes its time to study the four lead characters and appropriately develops them into atypical antiheroes who we can relate to for their morals, goals and resultant suffering. We also get to witness actors not known for dramatic roles turn in Oscar-worthy performances. They shape the film into a heart-wrenching and believable saga of the atrocities of war. Understandably compared to Saving Private Ryan, the end sequences mimic some of the events that took place in Spielberg’s WWII masterpiece. Although the violence and action are commendably similar, Days of Glory attempts a far greater and more analytical scope.
The colors and lighting of the film are first class, with unique transition shots that introduce changes in location and time; what appear to be clouds roll across black and white terrain to reveal vibrant full color. Explosions send up cascading rocks and debris that rain down upon the troops as they ascend an enemy mountain stronghold, and the camera becomes completely immersed in blackness. The sounds of bullets piercing the air and the cries of fallen soldiers are also particularly stirring.
Days of Glory examines its subjects and themes with great care and good intentions. While the film slows at a few points for character development and detail, we are presented with an exquisite look into a rarely examined aspect of WWII with countless moral analyzations and informative messages. Sadly, few people will see this film due to its limited release and pesky subtitles.
– Mike Massie (www.moviepulse.net)