A historical reconstruction film with an almost fifteen-million-euro production budget, a year-and-a-half long shoot and a year of postproduction, soaring violins and great actors: Days of Glory clearly makes the choice of addressing a large audience. There is no reason to look down on it for all that: for one, this film says what it has to say in a profoundly just way and secondly, it has nothing of a smooth-running production and only exists thanks to the commitment from both sides of the Mediterranean. Hollywoodian in ambition, unquestionably, in the style of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, but here, there is no happy end. Days of Glory can only disturb: when the question of colonial memory is at last at the heart of intense debates, the film comes, just at the right time, to remind how contemptuously African soldiers who died to save their « homeland » were treated.
The photos from the time that scroll down during the credits show ordinary people – those who enrolled in the French army in 1943 from the four corners of the Maghreb (the film leaves Black Africa aside), a little by idealism, mostly to travel, or for the money and to leave eternal poverty behind. Throughout Africa, there were 130000 of them, those that army superiors wanted to differentiate from « men » by calling them « natives ». With an effective unwinding effect, the black and white gives way to colour: it is through fiction and emotion that Rachid Bouchareb chooses to tell their story. This required great actors and their collective Best Actor Award at Cannes was truly well-deserved: Jamel Debbouze (Saïd), Sami Bouajila (Abdelkader), Roschdy Zem (Messaoud) and Samy Nacéry (Yassir), not to mention Bernard Blancan who portrays an ambiguous and unsettling sergeant Martinez, truly carry the film. After having introduced the different characters, Bouchareb groups them together to cross the sea and disembark in Italy. The first battles are epic and dramatic, but he focuses on our five heroes to concentrate on the human aspect. Even though they are cannon fodder commanded by those not in the firing line, they survive and are given an ovation and adored in Marseilles. It is soon clear that everything is done to avoid that couples last or that soldiers get a promotion. The homeland’s integrity will not stand for the mixing of races and people do not want to see still-colonized Africans free Alsace and then triumph over the Nazis in Germany. Yet, our heroes do contribute to this, isolated but ready to fight to the bitter end. Their dream of recognition is lost in the trap of their sacrifice. Sixty years later, France’s memory is still selective, war pensions are not entirely unfrozen and the surviving immigrant is alone in his room.
Of course, all of this is constructed so as to point out the treason allowed by colonial dreams and its perpetuation in the relation to immigrants. But while this pedagogical will that structures the script in layers is a bit transparent, it is not disturb inordinately problematic for the ignorance of the facts justifies it. The story of these modest people is so largely unknown that our four heroes are enlighteners. The quality of Bouchareb’s cinema does the rest: very detailed, the situations are all meaningful and full of humanity. A few beautiful lines show the already spreading anticolonial resistance as well as the soldiers’ solidarity. The three cardinal values of the Republic are constantly put to the test, and the film speaks right to the heart to understand what the descendants of these forgotten soldiers feel today. It is their parents’ story that the filmmaker and the actors tell with impressive energy and this proximity and commitment is felt through each and every image. The effort to restore memory goes beyond the French context: the Kingdom of Morocco supplied the army logistics while the film was shot for the most part in Ouarzazate with 500 extras, themselves widely concerned. « Some came with their father’s portrait », the filmmaker points out. But resentment never prevails: « If they had been full of violence and rancor, I would have shown it in the film. But it wasn’t the case ». It is probably there that lies the strength of this unforgettable film: these incredible men were Resistance fighters. They were convinced they were freeing their country from Nazi barbarity and the injustices they suffered never erased that feeling. That is where Days of Glory finds its inspiration: our common history has the foundations for a possible future – all that is left today is to acknowledge it before it is too late. This film, which makes the right choices, can contribute.
Translated by Céline Dewaele///Article N° : 6683