Days of Glory

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‘We must wash the French flag clean with our blood!’ exhorts an Algerian village leader, idealistically and self-sacrificially, at the opening of writer-director-producer Bouchareb’s grand World War II movie, an impressive, expensively mounted international co-production which tries – on the whole, successfully – to juggle the competing imperatives of the epic war movie with its concern to highlight the often-unacknowledged part that ‘indigenous’ (that is Arab and North African) troops played in the liberation of France from the Axis forces and their sorry treatment subsequently. It’s a grand, important thesis, conceived with a scope that compares to Sam Fuller’s ‘The Big Red One’. It’s shot in widescreen and, similarly, follows an army contingent comprising a half-dozen highlighted individuals across the European theatre, beginning with the carnage of the North African campaign (in 1943) before moving on to the liberation of the mainland, here a protracted sequence of a platoon flushing out the last remaining German presence in Alsace-Lorraine.

The first thing to say is that Bouchareb shows a real talent for action sequences, with cinematographer Patrick Blossier equally at home filming the attacks of the massed ranks against the dust and grey rocks of Africa as he is with the more intimate scale of the house-to-house fighting of the finale. Not surprisingly, given the ambitious amount of freight carried by his and Olivier Lorelle’s script – which tries to honour not only the bravery and determination of the soldiers, but also to acknowledge and personalise their various ethnic, class and professional divisions and the injusticies and discrimination they were subject to – some of the performances seem a little weighed down by assigned ‘types’, not least French comic actor Jamel Debbouze’s overly caricatured ‘ordinary Joe’. It’s also true that Bouchareb does seem too happy to adopt some of the more clichéd tropes of the war movie – the worst example of which is a slightly awkward episode of romantic ‘fraternisation’ with a grateful ‘liberated’ French woman. But overall, it’s an effective, thoughtful and stirring film which – aided by a number of memorable performances, not least those of Sami Bouajila as the stalwart Corporal Abdelkader and Bernard Blancan as the unyielding Sergeant Martinez – stands alongside Eastwood’s diptych as important, relevant and corrective accounts of the damned contradictions of institutionalised human warfare.

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Cast and crew

Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Screenwriter: Olivier Lorelle
Cast: Jamel Debbouze
Samy Nacéri
Roschdy Zem
Sami Bouajila
Bernard Blancan