Days Of Glory
Directed- Richard Bouchareb
In Days of Glory, there is a single forward track on the face of a Colonel in the French troupe, who is talking about the glory that the French would bestow upon the North Africans who are fighting for them in the war. And this ‘track’ on his face, to form a tight close-up; as he is speaking (the only one within the film) is a prominent deviation within the mise-en-scene that spoke beyond what the narrative, the image and the sound the rest of the film provided. Because it’s exactly here the film transcends the boundaries of becoming just another war movie and vibrates more than the limitation of heroism, patriotism and death all such films provide aplenty. Since the ‘track’ becomes a document that the film later uses to testify against the false promises, dreams and hope the French had promised and shown.
The film is set in the year 1943, France is at war against Germany and several men from French controlled North African territories join the Army to fight alongside the French. The film is about four Algerian men (Saïd Otmari, Yassir, Messaoud Souni, and Abdelkader) who never set foot on French soil, but fight alongside them in the war. And like most war movies their journey crosses various frontiers: death, love, victory and the elusive search for the homeland. The mise-en-scene compliments the way the narrative and the character inhabit and interact within the space like most war films do: the use of music to heighten emotions or to create emotional depth. The use of camera movements to bring focus on the heroism of the character or death, and the placement of bonding of love and family to create an emotional association and connection are dully present. For example, if any of these four men would be shot; a stimuli would create a tension within you to relate to them, because of the formatted and projected image to fill our stages of conversation, as its here, we hold on to something that one has gone before in order to make and relate to the present event. Similarly, the same could not be said for the killing of the German troops or any other soldiers from their own Infantry.
However, what makes this movie special and different from most movies in this genre and cinema per se is that the film though uses an existing template (genre) to create the layout of narrative and mise-en-scene, but most importantly, it intertwines a social and political commentary within the narrative through key scenes and plot sequences. That makes the movie socially and politically relevant. The first sign of the social and political stigma in the film sprout when during a dinner scene the Algerian soldiers revolt against the racial discrimination over food: French soldiers were provided with tomatoes which the Algerian’s aren’t and that causes a friction and a direct confrontation with the authorities, who eventually decide to bend the rule. Another interesting and an added layer of passive voice lay in the character of Sgt. Sergent Roger Martinez who was half Arab- French and represented the Algerian Infantry. But he never revealed his roots in the film, and when confronted, he became violent and wild, though he appeared sympathetic for the people who worked under him and towards his own lineage; a clear sign is the picture he kept of his mother in his shirt. Yet, he remained silent and passive towards the discrimination of the people. This closed voice spoke for another majority of people who worked within the regiment but hid their own past. Whilst they lived a much better life than their own people but always carried the guilt. Furthermore, the plot development though builds much like a conventional war movies but the placement of key scenes and dialogues provide the growth to the narrative that makes the film more powerful than the staple products. The film operates on a two layers; first a basic conflict of World War and, the second, the conflict of race that the North African soldiers were facing in their war against the French. And the central figure connecting both the layers and the film is Abdelkader (Sami Boujaila), a corporal and the voice of the Algerian and Africans who spoke for them against the French and their racism. Like most war movies his central role is just not configured to bring out the patriotism among his comrades or help the audience connect emotionally to their goals, but his ideology moves beyond fighting and motivating, as it is him, who constantly challenges the authorities. Sami Boujiala portrayal of the war veteran is more than cinematic, since it’s the subtlety he shows in shifting the weight between imitating the character and representing him that he seriously deserves every inch of accolade for the role.
Interestingly, the most important scene and question of the film are raised during the non-dramatic moment in the film. The film is broken down into chapters and connecting them is a beautiful transition of a black& white image slowly dissolving into color. It’s during one such moment, when Adelkader is reading a military handbook; he questions the Sgt regarding the illiteracy of his own comrades; as he quotes from the military guide book, ‘That no man should return illiterate from the war’, to which the Sgt question his own fellow mate, Said Otmari regarding education, who hesitatingly quips that, “He is too old to study’. A simple glance and a series of shot to express his helplessness move such scenes out of the boundaries of filmic realities of space and time. However, it’s at the end of the film that the movie and the character clearly express their own helplessness. When the war comes to a close, and Adelkader walks out of the town of Alsace, few French soldiers are standing with a family, and a war filmmaker is capturing the victory of the French army while the real man walk past unsung. The character cannot do anything but watch, and we cannot do anything but be a passive witness to the way the world function, nor could the movie intervene with the reality; as truth seemed the only ‘ hope’ of projection, just the like the ‘ track’ to create witnesses to the hypocrisies and lies.
Days of Glory is not a movie, it’s more than a movie, because in a world where the idea persist that the film cannot change our social structure, it helped in shaping a change of the people it portrayed. The North Africans who had fought alongside the French lost their pensions after the year 1959, when the countries started becoming Independent, and subsequent French authorities never granted them their rightful, however, Jacques Chirac after watching the film enforced the pension to be granted to the veterans. Days of Glory is an honest film with a heart of melodrama mind of melodrama but a soul of creation.
Cross-Published from my review for Dear Cinema
NDTV Lumiere release in India. Check your local listing for the film timings.