A French war movie for today’s times….
Last night I watched Rachid Buchareb’s 2006 film Days of Glory, a remarkable account about the lives of four Algerian soldiers who volunteered to fight for France during World War Two. History tells us many things which help shape our understanding of today’s geopolitical climate and this film, along with books such as Larteguy’s The Centurians go some way in exposing France’s treatment of the West and North African Muslims who gave their lives fighting for a country whose treatment of them was profoundly shameful.
The disgrace of France’s attitude to its colonial proletariat is key to the film, time and again we are served reminders of the inequality shown to men fighting under the same flag. Whilst some moments, such as the outburst over a black African eating a tomato in the mess appeal more to the cinematic experience rather than probable fact there can be no disputing the discrimination against promotion or, quite centrally to the film, the destruction of love letters from Algerian soldiers to French women and vice versa.
In their attempt to fight back against the Germans, the Free French Army hoodwinked young men from North Africa to join them in a patriotic fight to regain France’s freedom. These men, born into poverty and living in squalor who left their families in the belief that a land they had never set foot in would treat them as equals are seen falling to the submachine gun fire of Germans protecting a singular hill. Lives wiped out as the French generals look on from a distance, watching the first line fall before firing their own artillery. It is a dreadful and perverse call-to-arms made all the worse by the very real and disgusting politics of post-war Colonial France.
As these former colonies became independent in the 1950s the French government froze the pensions of the African veterans whilst their French counterparts saw inflationary rises under successive governments which meant that by the time of this film’s release African veterans were receiving a tenth of the pension of their French colleagues. It was pressure in part from this film which helped push Jacques Chirac to acknowledge and rebalance the deficit and give those few remaining elderly former soldiers the pension they deserved.
Don’t let subtitles put you off, it is beautifully shot, short on sentiment and implausible scenes. Truly a lesson for the twenty first century and how our ‘great’ nations and their democracies actually worked.