November 26, 2013

Movie Review: Indigènes (Days of Glory) (2006)

"We're changing the destiny of France. Things must change for us, too!" - Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila)

Director: Rachid Bouchareb

Writers: Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle

Producers: Muriel Merlin, Jean Bréhat

Studio: Multiple studios in France (production), IFC/Weinstein Co. (US release)

Major Stars: Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debbouze, Bernard Blancan, Roschdy Zem, Samy Naceri, Benoît Giros, Antoine Chappey, Aurélie Eltvedt

In the wake of France's utter defeat at the hand of the Nazis in May of 1940, the anti-German elements of the government were forced into exile. Following the Allies retaking of the French colonies along the North African coast in 1942, the Free French recruited soldiers amongst the "natives"; the indigenous inhabitants of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. These units were instrumental in French participation in battles in Italy as well as in Operation Dragoon, the Allied operation that attacked German forces in France from the southern coast in August of 1944. These soldiers fought, bled and died for a motherland that few of them had ever even seen, but believed in with a fervor. And France turned its back on them.

Indigènes follows four soldiers from Africa during this time. Each of them joins for a different reason. Saïd (Debbouze) joins to find security and a future in the Army. Messaoud (Zem) wants to live in Marseilles after the war. Yassir (Naceri) wants to earn enough money to marry off his younger brother. And Abdelkader (Bouajila) wants nothing less than France to live up to its promise of "Liberty, Fraternity and Equality."

None of them get what they want. And that forms the backbone of Indigènes, Rachid Bouchareb's impressive war film (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007) that is more a drama film with war elements. It looks at the institutional racism that the French military directed at it's African soldiers even as they died to liberate a country none of them had ever visited. Bouchareb looks mainly at the experiences of Algerian soldiers (Yassir is Moroccan), partially because of his background (he is French-Algerian) and partially because the Algerian veterans suffered a great injustice; having their pensions suspended in the late 1950s as Algeria was on the verge of independence from France.

The racism they suffered is expressed in various ways. Minor things like being denied tomatoes in the mess hall that the white soldiers get are almost more offensive to the African troops than the bigger examples, like getting inferior equipment and being denied boots in the dead of winter. Then there are the examples they never see. Messaoud meets a white French woman named Irene following the liberation of Marseilles. They fall in love and write to each other. But they never receive each others letters because the French military intercepts them.

At every turn the Africans are called upon to serve France and fed the lines of fighting for liberty and freedom. And every time they answer the call, the French spit in their eye. Because being African, as opposed to being a pied-noir (European born in Africa) is akin to being nothing in their eyes.

Bouchareb does a remarkable job of bringing this story to the screen in a compelling fashion that never comes off as preachy. It really doesn't even hammer the French; Bouchareb just lays the story out for us and we can draw our own conclusion. And that allows the film to be as good as it is.

The battle elements of Indigènes are solid. It's a very classic presentation of war, something you would see back in the days of Patton and A Bridge Too Far. But a little flair is added here and there. A lot of an early battle is shot from low on the ground so the sprays of dirt from explosions dominate the screen and cover the soldiers. The final battle, where the four African soldiers hold a French village against a German company until the rest of their unit reaches them, is very well done and shot in a style reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan. Throughout the film, Patrick Blossier's cinematography is top-notch and compliments Bouchareb's direction.

I have no real negative things to say about Indigènes. Maybe the worst I can say is that it doesn't do anything great but it does everything well. But that makes it better than most films. And it addresses a serious topic that too few of us knew about.

On the current list I would place Indigènes right behind Braveheart. Bouchareb's film is the more emotional and arresting film. But Gibson's epic re-telling of William Wallace's fight against the British is just that; epic. And while I have issues with his history-telling, his direction is fantastic.

Definitely go out and buy Indigènes if you want a well-directed war film that deals with more than just blood and guts. You can buy it for under $15 at Amazon. And it would be a film worth watching as the lead film in a double-header with The Battle For Algiers (another film I will be reviewing).


Post a Comment


Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon.

Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon