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Indigènes (Days of Glory)

(2006) *** R
120 min. The Weinstein Company. Director: Rachid Bouchareb. Cast: Bernard Blancan, Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debbouze, Aurelie Eltvedt, Benoit Giros.

Best Foreign Language Film nominee Indigènes—or as the Weinstein Company calls it, Days of Glory—tells the sad story of North African soldiers fighting in the French infantry during WWII. As colonial subjects, the Algerians are treated poorly compared to their French brothers-in-arms, but they all bleed the same. Screenwriter Olivier Lorelle and director Rachid Bouchareb mine dramatic opportunity from the men's acquired feelings of inadequacy, which threaten to keep them down, and their gradual empowerment.

In the film's first scene, Muslim naïf Saïd (Jamel Debbouze of Amélie) enlists over the protestations of his mother. Soon, he has connected with three other committed soldiers: Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), who speaks up for the Algerian soldiers' rights; Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), who prays to survive long enough to reclaim the Caucasian Frenchwoman who loved him on leave; and Yassir (Samy Naceri) is in it for the money, to help finance his brother's wedding. The four serve in one regiment, under their mostly unsympathetic sergeant (Bernard Blancan).

In terms of story and dialogue, Days of Glory isn't terribly sophisticated, a problem which can exacerbate the film's dull pace. Lorelle's script and Bouchareb's direction also bear comparison to Saving Private Ryan (on a budget), with a present-day finale that finds one of the actors wearing old-age makeup to putter by the graves of his dead compatriots. But the film is ably performed and effective as an old-fashioned war movie, with callow young soldiers feeling their oats and facing the fight of their lives. And though it may be an aesthetically irrelevant criterion, the politics of Days of Glory are important—the film changed modern history by hastening restitution for long-frozen military pensions.

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