Eye For Film >> Movies >> Days Of Glory (2006) Film Review
Days Of Glory
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
Days of Glory is the story of a missing chapter of the Second World War, the role of North African troops in the liberation of France. It follows four young volunteers as they fight and are then forgotten.
The film has been compared to Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, and its influence is clear. We see a small group assemble from disparate backgrounds, brought together for a mission with a key propaganda component. Unfortunately, the film also suffers from a tendency to mawkishness, all the more galling because of the importance of its story. Where Saving Private Ryan was a story of personal sacrifice, Indigènes, “natives”, is also a story of national and imperial pride, of generational sacrifice, and of callous neglect.
The cast are not completely unknown outside France, but their exposure has been limited. Jamel Debbouze (previously seen in Amélie, Astérix, and Angel-A) is convincing as Saïd, an ingenue who volunteers as a matter of pride. He becomes aide-de-camp to Sergeant Roger Martinez, the piéds-noir veteran stuck between the exclusively French officers and the North African Men. In an early exchange with the unit's Lieutenant, he cautions him for referring to the unit as “indigènes”, and when asked what they should be called, his answer is simple: “the men, sir, the men”.
The prejudice exhibited against them is great, but these are honest portrayals. Yassir, played by Samy Naceri, star of Luc Besson's Taxi franchise, joins to loot, hoping to make enough from the war to get his younger brother Larbi married. Roschdy Zem's Messaoud Souni is a convincing patriot, finding a girl in the first town the unit liberate and trying to hold on to her as the war progresses. Central to the film is Abdelkader. Sami Bouajila lends the role an honesty and a passion, as a man who wishes to be the best soldier he can be. He is the sole member of the unit who can read, the only one promoted, and his fate is a tragic one.
Days of Glory is a great film, thoroughly deserving of the award attention that it has received. Its sentimental similarity to Saving Private Ryan does it no favours, despite the fact that many of the scenes it has in common with that film are more powerful. As an examination of France's colonial history it loses out to The Battle of Algiers, an earlier film about a later period, but more brutal, more grounded in truth, a classic of cinema.
Early in the film Saïd puts it best: “I free a country, it's my country, even if I've never seen it before.” Days of Glory is an astonishing film about the betrayal of that belief.Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2007