DAYS OF GLORY (INDIGENES) (Rachid Bouchareb). 122 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 23). For venues and times, see Movies, page 84. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
In Days Of Glory, four Algerian villagers join the French infantry during the second world war, sold on patriotic love of the colonial motherland. They fight and die, and along the way France's promises of "liberté, egalité, fraternité" and reward evaporate in a haze of racism, some of which seems clearly institutional, some of which may come from individuals.
Director Rachid Bouchareb isn't interested in polemics, though. His points are embedded in his scenes, and he writes and directs those scenes for straightforward, naturalistic character drama, trusting his cast to deliver and his audience to pick up on the nuances.
The veteran cast performs superbly. It's no wonder that the ensemble picked up the award for best actor at Cannes last year.
As the film progresses, the brutalizing effects of war seem to settle more and more into their faces and bodies. The process of character maturation and hardening brings an immense dignity to Jamel Debbouze's Saïd, a role that could have easily turned into a caricatured devoted sidekick.
Bouchareb gives his battle scenes a powerful sense of realism and peril by focusing on the physicality of the action. Infantry war is hard, muddy work. We can feel it, and that brings to life both the characters' resentment of and attachment to the French army.
It's that complexity that makes the film well worth its Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.