Glory [1989]

Hype can be a dangerous thing, and the newspaper ads touting Days of Glory (aka Indigenes, French for "Indigenous") as "so powerful it changed the world" are nigh on impossible for any movie to live up to. This one doesn't, but director Rachid Bouchareb's World War II drama still makes for compelling viewing. Confronting the Nazis both in Italy and at home in 1943, the French Army recruits men from Algeria, then a French colony, and other North Africans to help out. Of the film's two principal themes, one, the horrors of war, is nothing new. But the battle scenes are well done; the first major clash, on a bleak Italian hillside, effectively conveys the young Muslims' confusion and abject terror. The second theme is clearly the one that inspired Bouchareb in the first place: the eternal issue of race and discrimination (also explored in 1989's Glory, about black soldiers in the Civil War). Focusing in particular on four Algerians, including Jamel Debbouze as the naïve Saïd and Roschdy Zem as the lovestruck Messaoud, the films depicts how they are denied basics like food, mail delivery, time off, and such, effectively rendering meaningless the French ideal of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. It all culminates in a small town in Alsace, where the four find brief respite before having to face a much larger and better equipped German force (this scene, as well as a final bit in a cemetery, carry heavy echoes of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan). Bouchareb apparently made Days of Glory at least in part to shame the French government into handing over long-frozen pensions to surviving soldiers and their kin. French president Jacques Chirac finally approved the funds in 2006--apparently after seeing this film. So maybe it did change the world a little after all. --Sam Graham

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