Days of Glory (a title strangely reconfigured from Indigènes) was made with the not-so-implicit goal of compelling the French government—which froze the pensions of all North African soldiers who fought on France’s side during World War II, and which has dragged its feet since consenting in 2002 to reimburse the men—to finally pay up. That Jacques Chirac has now reportedly agreed to do so makes Rachid Bouchareb’s film something of a political success, a fact that nonetheless doesn’t correlate in any way, shape, or form to its artistic merits—of which, it turns out, there are few, most of them centered on the director’s lucid widescreen orchestration of battle sequences that are, despite the stereotypical, lackluster drama that envelops them, viscerally bitter and cruel.
Otherwise, though, this rasping relic of a WWII “message picture” is hackneyed to its noble core, focusing on a troupe of Algerian Arabs whose members each represent a certain attitude toward their military service for their foreign “homeland.” Saïd (Amélie‘s Jamel Debbouze) willingly waits on Sergeant Martinez (Bernard Blancan), his Muslim variation on the old “yes, massa” routine so pronounced that he refuses a promotion in order to stay by his nasty commander’s side. Such devotion isn’t found in Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), a principled corporal whose belief that dark-skinned soldiers also deserve to enjoy De Gaulle’s promise of liberty, equality, and fraternity gets him into insubordination trouble, nor in Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), whose prime concern is returning to Marseilles and the Caucasian beauty he loves.
Days of Glory follows these gallant men from Italy to Provence to Alsace, a tour of duty that involves stirring if small-scale gunfights with Nazi regiments and internal conflicts between Arab and French comrades in which Bouchareb and co-screenwriter Olivier Lorelle have characters blaringly and prosaically articulate the story’s thematic contentions. Horrid, hypocritical racists abound while loyal North Africans persevere, convinced that their sacrifice will lead to an honor the film—through its very existence—makes clear was never granted. Bouchareb’s lionization-cum-political-rallying-cry is perfectly timed to cash in on current car-flipping tensions between Parisian Christians and Muslims. Yet regardless of topicality, there’s no ignoring the staleness of Days of Glory‘s pervasive clichés, nor the mawkishness of a Saving Private Ryan-esque present-day cemetery finale, ridiculous old-age make-up included.