Directed by Rachid Bouchareb
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 119 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Review Date: June 18, 2007
150,000 Algerian soldiers fought for the French army in its quest to liberate France from the Nazis during World War II. The stories of four of these brave men fighting to free what they considered their homeland even though they had never been there forms the basis of Days of Glory, an outstanding war drama which is as strong in its political message as it is in its ability to tell a compelling story. Its Oscar nomination as Best Foreign Language Film was no fluke; this film is successful both as a political statement and as a crackerjack thriller.
The four men in the spotlight couldn’t be more different: Said (Jamel Debbouze) is a proud but illiterate shepherd; Yassir (Samy Naceri) is a mercenary who undergoes the pull of nationalism; Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) is a romantic eager to fight but hopelessly in love, and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) fights for the rights of the French Arabs who are being treated as second class citizens, denied basic food and equipment but being asked to shoulder just as many possibilities for death as the other soldiers. In many ways similar to Edward Zwick’s Glory (in which an all-black regiment fights for the Union in the Civil War but is considered a second class, bottom of the barrel unit), writer-director Rachid Bouchareb features scenes of unfairness and prejudice which drive his political points home with a fierce directness.
But Bouchareb also makes sure that other elements of war get equal attention: there is the bonding between the men trapped in life and death situations and who often save one another’s lives. There is a lovely scene between Messaoud and Irene (Melanie Laurent) where he falls deeply in love and spends much of the remainder of the film trying to regain his connection to her. Said becomes a personal assistant to the unit’s sergeant (Bernard Blancan), a touching relationship which sours once some personal information comes to the fore.
And then there are the battle scenes! With only a $16 million budget, there aren’t going to be The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan marathon battles. What we do have, however, are some exciting skirmishes: a charge up a hill defended by Germans (the first French victory against the Germans in the war), a tense trek through the forests of Alsace (loaded with booby traps), and the climactic defense of an Alsace village with only a handful of the Algerians facing off against an entire squad of Germans who outnumber their enemy in both manpower and firepower. The latter scene, a breathtaking action sequence with multiple points of view, is undoubtedly the film’s showcase scene.
The acting is superb throughout with Debbouze (who also co-produced), Bouajila, and Blancan deserving special mention. In fact, so strong is the ensemble work by the leading men of the company that they were voted a joint Best Actor award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. One viewing of the film will allow the viewer to see that this recognition was obviously justified.
The film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been rendered faithfully on this DVD, enhanced for widescreen televisions. The color is very natural, a nice change from the usual desaturation of color in war films (e.g. Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan), and close-ups and medium shots retain sharpness and good detail. Blacks aren’t as deep as they could have been, sharpness wanes a bit in the long shots, and I glimpsed moiré patterns in some turbans and in one jacket late in the movie. The white subtitles are large and easy to read. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is strong during the battle scenes with especially rich .1 LFE. Otherwise, though the entire soundfield is made use of throughout the running time, there are moments when only the front channels are being utilized to the detriment of the rears. A little more consistent use of all available channels with the surround sound being a bit more immersive might have added an extra bit of ambience to all of the scenes in the movie.
The DVD includes two special features. The first is a 24-minute featurette on the making of the film presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. All of the principal actors as well as the writer-director and other producers comment on the production of the film and the story which they felt compelled to tell, an important one in the history of indigenous soldiers around the world but specifically in northern Africa. This documentary is subtitled in English.
The 9-minute animated film The Colonial Friend is also offered here in non-anamorphic widescreen. Directed by Rachid Bouchareb, this pencil sketch animated short contains the same theme of indigenous soldiers being denied the rights of other French soldiers that is contained in Days of Glory. In this film, however, the results are more scandalous than the kinder, gentler resolution the director employs in the main feature. Still, the artistic technique of the short is quite interesting and most welcome on this DVD.
Days of Glory does not paint a particularly flattering picture of France’s treatment of its colonial soldiers and their valiant efforts in its behalf during World War II. The realization that racial prejudice has been alive and well around the world for a very long time shouldn’t come as a great shock and yet it always does. Director Rachid Bouchareb has presented his case forcefully in this undeniably involving and extremely touching movie.