Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Days of Glory / Indigènes

Rachid Bouchareb (2006)

Genre: Historical Film

Boucharab's war movie centres on four men from the Maghreb who, for different reasons, join the French Algerian light infantry in 1943 to participate alongside the Allied Forces and the Free French Forces, in the liberation of France from Nazi occupation. Led by Sergeant Martinez, who is half Algerian, half French but passes himself off as a pied noir, they first fight in Italy before being shipped to Marseille and moving up North to the Alsace, with their regiment being gradually decimated in a series of bloody battles. Each of the four protagonists - the good marksman Messaoud, the well-educated Algerian Abdelkader, the Moroccan berber Yassir and the poor Algerian goats herd Saïd - has a different reason for leaving their beautiful sun-drenched villages behind when they are recruited, but each perceives himself as French and as fighting for his fatherland. Yet the film demonstrates that, although they sacrifice their lives for the patriotic cause,  they are not treated as equals.  While French soldiers get promoted for their bravery, the 'natives' (or indigènes) serve as canon fodder, are not given the same food, are prevented from embarking on a relationship with white French women and will never be given the recognition they hope for as their just reward. Of the four men, only Abdelkader survives.  Throughout the film, he is aware that he is not just  fighting for the liberation of France from Nazi occupation but also for the ideal of  'libérté, égalité, fraternité' - hoping that it will also be realised in relation to the African colonial troops. But his visit  on a war cemetery in Alsace, 60 years later,  suggests otherwise. While the heroism of Sergeant Martinez, whose grave is high up on the hill, is noted in an inscription on a cross, for the humble graves of his fellow combatants are at the bottom of the hill and just mention their names. The final shot shows Abdelkader returning to his humble room, and leaving the audience in no doubt that the promises that were made to African soldiers were never fulfilled. 

Bouchareb's film was not only nominated for the Academy Awards and seen by three million viewers in France alone, it also led to President Jacques Chirac changing a law which disadvantaged colonial soldiers who fought in WWII to receive war veteran pensions on par with French war veterans. When France's former colonies gained independence, colonial soldiers' pensions had been frozen at a ridiculously low level. However, no back payments were made. For a discussion of the political repercussions of Bouchareb's film see John Lichfield's article in The Independent

See also Ali Jafaar's article 'Unknown Soldiers: Days of Glory' in Sight & Sound (April 2007)

And the official website of Indigènes

Posted by Daniela Berghahn on 11 May 2013 •





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