Indigènes (Days of Glory) (2006)
Director: Rachid Bouchareb.
Cast: Jamel Debbouze (SaVd Otmari), Samy Naceri (Yassir), Roschdy Zem (Messaoud Souni), Sami Bouajila (Abdelkader), Bernard Blancan (Sergent Roger Martinez), Mathieu Simonet (Caporal Leroux), Benoît Giros (Capitaine Durieux), Mélanie Laurent (Margueritte village Vosges), Antoine Chappey (Le colonel), Assaad Bouabmn (Larbi), Aurélie Eltvedt (IrPne), Thomas Langmann (Le journaliste), Thibault de Montalembert (Capitaine Martin), Dioucounda Koma (Touré), Philippe Beglia (Rambert).
In French with Spanish and English subtitles.
North African Muslims in French colonies fight for France
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Algeria 1943. SaVd's mother does not want him to join the army to help France in the Second World War. But SaVd tells her: "We must liberate France from the Germans."
Morocco 1943. Berber men on horseback arrive. The French officer in charge praises these mountain men as the best fighters of the Berbers. Larbi asks his brother Yassir why they joined the army.
Setif 1943. Men of Africa gather together under French leadership.
Italy 1944. Corporal Abdelkader of the second company, 7th Algerian Infantry Regiment, and his small group report to Sergeant Roger Martinez. SaVd drops a grenade and the sergeant has to grab it and throw it away from the men. He then takes a rifle and strikes SaVd in the stomach area. But it was not so much SaVd's incompetence, but the lack of training for the men.
The situation is that the Germans have dug-in on the mountains and the Muslim soldiers (with some French soldiers) have to drive them out. The men start up the mountain incline. The Germans open up on them with machine guns. There are many casualties. Corporal Abdelkader reports to his men that one of their soldiers has been killed. SaVd is able to knock out an important machine gun nest by using a grenade. The French flag now flies over the once German positions.
In the chow line, a black soldier picks up a tomato and the white food handler tells him to put it back because the tomatoes are not for them. This confrontation upsets the Muslim soldiers who believe that this is an expression of racism and colonialism. Corporal Abdelkader takes a stand and Sgt. Martinez tries to make him quiet down. So the corporal grabs a grate of tomatoes and stomps on them. He says to the sergeant that if they all cannot have tomatoes, then no one will have tomatoes. The captain becomes involved and he tells the sergeant to give the tomatoes to everyone.
Provence France August 1944. The Muslim soldiers are welcomed in Marseilles as heroes. A young French woman takes a liking to Messaoud Souni. She even takes him up to her apartment where they have sex. Messaoud is a little nervous because as he says: "In my country, we don't go with Frenchwomen." When Messaoud departs they both pledge that they will write to each other.
The French soldiers tell Sgt. Martinez to get back to his "wogs". This makes the sergeant very angry and he shakes one of the soldiers. Messaoud looks in vain for a letter from Irene.
The Vosges November 1944. Corporal Abdelkader's company goes on the attack with the other units. They lose another one of their company soldiers. Following the battle, Sgt. Martinez tells SaVd that he will be promoted to private, but SaVd tells him that he does not want to be a private. He wants to remain the rank he already is. The French are censoring Messaoud's letters to Irene and vice versa. (Censoring in this case means that the letters are just not delivered at all.)
Sgt. Martinez wants his colonials to receive leave just like the French soldiers. He also wants more promotions for his men. But no one in the officer corps seems interested in the request. Martinez, however, is promoted to staff sergeant. The Germans drop fliers in Arabic among the Muslim soldiers. The fliers encourage the Muslims to come over to the German side because they will give them freedom and liberty.
Corporal Abdelkader gets thrown into an ad-hoc stockade for giving a rousing speech to his fellow colonials about the urgent need for liberty, equality and fraternity for the colonial soldiers. Messaoud is also put in the stockade for trying to "desert" in order to see Irene. Since the corporal seems to be a real leader among his people, the French officers ask him to lead a dangerous mission. In Alsace the 37th US Division has broken through, but they need reinforcements and ammunition. The corporal is given the task of reaching a key village and then holding it against heavy German oppsition in the area. Corporal Abdelkader takes the assignment willingly. He takes Messaoud with him.
The unit is placed under an officer, staff sergeant Martinez and another sergeant. They make good progress but then a number of those in front set off trip wires and many explosions follow. The officer and the sergeant are killed and Staff Sergeant Martinez is badly wounded. Many of Abdelkader's men are also killed. The end result is they have only four Muslim soldiers and a staff sergeant unable to fight.
The 4-man strong unit reaches the village. The men are Corporal Martinez, Yassir (who just lost his brother in the trip wire incident), SaVd and Messaoud. There are signs of battle all over the village with many dead soldiers. A French woman volunteers to take care of the staff sergeant. The four Muslim soldiers set up in different houses to await the Germans.
A group of around 20 German soldiers comes into the village. They are very bunched together and Yassir is able to knock out quite a few of them with his automatic weapon. The remaining German soldiers are killed with the help of the other three Muslim soldiers. However, now even more German soldiers arrive. And one of them has a bazooka. The bazooka is used to blast the small building in which Messaoud is hiding. The building is demolished. Messaoud is able to pick himself up, but he is shot at close range by a German soldier. The bazooka man then uses his weapon to kill SaVd and the staff sergeant. The corporal and Yassir try to make a run for it to get away from the bazooka, but Yassir is killed while trying to cross the bridge. The only Muslim survivor is the corporal but it looks like he is going to be dead pretty soon. There are just too many German soldiers.
But just as it looks like the corporal will be killed, the main group of Muslim soldiers arrives and they finish off the Germans. Corporal Abdelkader becomes very disillusioned when the colonel will not acknowledge his and his men's accomplishments. The disillusionment is deepened when he sees the army newsreel reporters showing only white Frenchmen as the liberators of the village.
Sixty years later. Abdelkader visits a large military cemetery where many Muslim soldiers are buried. He visits the graves of the men on the Alsace mission.
In 1959 a law froze the pensions of infantrymen from former French colonies about to become independent. In 2002 the French government was ordered to pay the pension in full. But successive governments have pushed back this payment.
Good movie. The movie praises the unsung Muslim soldier heroes from northern Africa who fought for France in World War II. The soldiers make huge sacrifices to fight for France, but since they are from the French colonies, they are subjected to racism, prejudice and discrimination. The French made some minor, but important, adjustments to calm down the often offended troops, but the basic racism and colonialism continued. Many in the French army would soon be fighting in the long Algerian War of Independence.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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