by RISHI AGRAWAL
Days of Glory, one of the last year’s nominees at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, is a World War II movie that does not try to overpower you with gore, but focuses on the individual characters. The film is a multinational effort shot in French and Arabic, and contains only two major battle scenes. The movie follows a group of soldiers from Algeria, at the time a French colony, who fight for the liberation of France despite their shoddy treatment by the French government.
Most of the characters are memorable: Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), who would like nothing more than to be promoted, even though it is unheard of for an Arab; Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), an expert marksman who falls in love with a French woman from Marseilles; and Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), who gets picked on by the other soldiers for being the right-hand man for the sergeant (Bernard Blancan). The acting is fine all around and when the film premiered at Cannes in 2006, the ensemble cast won the male acting award.
The film is not without its political message. The idea that these Arab soldiers are second-class is emphasized several times throughout the film. The characters argue whether they will be treated with any respect for their efforts once the war is over. Some naively think that the government will recognize what they have done, while others are more cynical. This is another strength of the film: it would have been easy to make all the soldiers have a singular vision, but they are different in fundamental ways. Some of them actually want to be French while others just want to go home. As the film progresses over a span of a couple years, tensions between the soldiers rise and hopes grow dim.
Though the political message of the film may be somewhat heavy-handed, it has made a tangible difference in the world. The French government refused to pay the pensions of these Algerian soldiers after Algeria gained its independence, despite the fact that they were fighting under the French flag in World War II. The French government nominally restored these pensions in 2002 but they still hadn’t been paid out. As a result of this film, the French government finally paid out the pensions.
It is a good thing that the film concentrates more on its characterizations than its battle scenes. Though the combat is well-shot and somewhat harrowing, it seems very familiar. The film has plenty to say about the role of these Algerian soldiers trying to serve in the French army and the individual stories are the heart of the film, and what the viewer really needs to take away. However, on the topic of war itself, the film falls into familiar patterns and is generally derivative. We all know that war is futile and that the soldiers are brave and are not given the recognition they deserve for their sacrifice. None of these concepts are new and they aren’t even presented in a way to make them seem new. Anyone who has seen more than a few war films will certainly find the climactic battle treads much of the same ground as its predecessors.