Normally when we think of countries going to war, we think of them as nations and all soldiers being equal. History shows that this isn’t close to the truth. Where there’s race, gender or religion, there’s prejudice no matter whether it’s a time of peace or a time of global warfare.
Rachid Bouchareb’s Days of Glory looks at the Muslim troops of North Africa fighting to liberate France during World War II. Like most every great war movie, it combines intense action with human drama. There’s also several overtly preachy scenes that accomplish little to further the story but they underline the already clear message.
The story focuses on a core group of four North African soldiers fighting under the French flag as they march through France in the second half of the war, looking to take the country back from Germany. Because of their skin colour and the fact that they pray to Allah rather than God, the troops are treated as second rate. They march forward into the most dangerous areas, while the French come and clean up when the enemy is severely weakened. Despite the winter snow, their feet freeze in the sandals they’re expected to fight in. And while the French get their meals supplemented by a nice, ripe tomato, the North African troops do not. Still they march with honour and stay loyal – even if there’s no concrete benefits given they’re potentially offering their lives.
The main strength of the film lies in the performances, particularly in the second half once the somewhat obvious nature of the prejudice was firmly established. The setup beforehand was awkward and largely contrived bits of melodrama. However, once the purpose of it all is given, the personal emotions are able to show through.
While I found the dramatic parts to be hit and miss, the action was also very good. As a people left with the scraps and not given much responsibility beyond the bloody frontlines, it’s all hand-to-hand combat. The fighting is intense and, for better or worse, intimate.
Days of Glory is ultimately an issue movie. At times the issue takes over and overtly tries to influence. These are the weakest, both in the way of entertainment, and, ironically, in making its point. But when Bouchareb lets the story tell itself and not weigh it down, the power comes through and the film is stronger for it.
Days of Glory Gallery
Days of Glory Trailer