To be honest, I have never heard of Days of Glory (Indigènes) until now. Something about the movie synopsis (as you’ll see below) just grabbed me when I was offered the chance to review. Maybe since the movie can be so relate-able to current events, it’s hard to say, but this is one movie that I am glad I discovered. While it starts a bit slow, it builds up to a white-knuckled finale. This excellent film garnered a number of prestigious award nominations from around the world, including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.
This World War II film tells the tale of a group of African soldiers who join the French in their fight against the Nazis. Although they passionately battle to defend the motherland, a place they’ve never been, they face inequality and daily humiliation within the French army. These heroes that history forgot won battles throughout Europe before finding themselves alone to defend a small village against a German battalion.
Saïd Otmari (Jamel Debbouze), Yassir (Samy Naceri), Messaoud Souni (Roschdy Zem), Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), and Sergent Roger Martinez (Bernard Blancan) are the five main characters in Days of Glory (Indigènes), interacting with their best friends, fellow teammates, superior officers, and the stress and duty that comes with war. The acting by these five actors, and the cast in general, is astounding. I can’t put my finger on it, but each actor is able to make their characters unique in the backdrop of countless faceless soldiers being marched off to war. Each hit they take, we feel it. Whether it’s a good moment or bad, we feel every bit of it.
As the movie unfolded, I found that despite the early action sequence, and an extremely well-done one at that, the movie does take a little bit to get going. We see hints of it early on, whether it is Sergent glaring at Saïd on the battlefield or a conversation off to the side. But soon we see the theme of the movie peak through. We see discrimination among the ranks, focusing on four main players who eventually find themselves against all odds, defending a village. The characters are flawed, and there’s a good chance you may not even like some, but it unfolds in such a real and honest fashion. These aren’t personality quirks, and characters don’t fit into pre-determined roles. They’re complicated and real.
I found myself wanting to know how the story would play out for the four main characters, and it doesn’t end on a predictable note. The ending is rather heartbreaking, actually. You don’t get the sense that, “Oh, this guy will survive.” Not at all. In this war movie, you not only feel the danger, but you know that nobody is safe. It’s that sense of urgency, that every mission could be the last for a specific character, that makes you so invested in them. And given how beautifully acted this movie is, and how engaging the movie is once the movie starts rolling, it’s all we could want in a war movie. It’s not hollow or pretension, but intimate and real.
A neat bit of trivia I discovered about this movie was that the main actors, all of North African descent, did not know of France’s discrimination towards foreign soldiers serving in the French army during World War II until filming began. To be honest, neither did I. But what I enjoyed about this film is that it told you not only an intense tale of war, but told a story that not many people knew about. And given the importance of the final mission these men undertake, it’s amazing how little we may know of the war. This movie paints a haunting picture of that, one that shows how multi-faceted World War II was. This movie paints a memorable portrait of World War II, and how it affected so many people in so many different ways.
I do want to make a quick note about the language of the film and the title itself. This is a French film, but there are English subtitles, so don’t worry. I know a lot of readers may be put off by that fact (which is a shame), but it’s not distracting nor does it pull you put of the movie. I know a little bit of French so I found it easy to follow (even if the translation wasn’t exact from time to time). And the French title of the movie, Indigènes, translates to Natives, which should give you a better understanding of the movie’s theme than the American title of the movie (which I find somewhat generic).
So how is the DVD? Extras include a making of featurette, simply dubbed The Making of Days of Glory (Indigènes), and the short film The Colonial Friend. Given the prestige that was bestowed upon this picture, I thought there would be more extras. It’s not a disappointing collection by any means, but you can’t help but wonder if this film deserved more attention.
Overall, I would have to Recommend this movie. It’s a powerful movie, one that will leave you gripping your seat during the climax. With amazing acting across the board and some very exhilarating and painfully realistic action scenes, it’s wonderfully done. You may have a hard time finding this release, but it is definitely worth the search. Days of Glory (Indigènes) tells a brutal war story that deserves to be heard.
Days of Glory (Indigènes) hits store June 12th, 2007