Nominated for a Foreign Language Academy Award, 'Days of Glory (Indigènes)' tells the story of a band of North African soldiers - the indigènes or natives of the title - who enlisted in the French army during the Second World War. But this is not a simple combat story. The soldiers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were subsequently treated in a shameful manner when France adopted a law in 1959 that froze their pensions. Although this was revoked in 2001, no funds were released until last year when President Jacques Chirac reinstated the pensions in the wake of the furore caused in France by the release of this film. But it is too little - the payments are not backdated - and 47 years too late for many of the veterans.
The film opens in 1943 as De Gaulle's Free French forces are in the process of raising an army from Muslim colonial subjects in North Africa. Each man enlists for a different reason: easy-going Saïd (Debbouze) is trying to escape the poverty of his village, Messaoud (Zem) is looking for adventure, Yassir (Naceri) wants to make money for a dowry at home and the intense Abdelkader (Bouajila) aims to prove that North Africans are equal to the French. And then there's Sergeant Roger Martinez (Blancan), a "pied-noir" - European born in Algeria - who creates the often antagonistic bridge between the two cultures.
Like many other recent war films, such as Clint Eastwood's 'Flags of Our Fathers' and 'Letters from Iwo Jima', we get to know the characters as they fight their way from the sun of the Maghreb to their last stand in snowy Alsace against a German battalion. Director and writer Rachid Bouchareb follows the conventions of the genre, interspersing intense combat sequences with quieter, more personal moments - but he also points out the inequalities. Even though these men are fighting side by side with their French colleagues, they don't receive the same amount of food, leave or, what became most important, recognition.
There is history and humanity aplenty in this film, which is told well and with passion. Performances from the central quintet are first rate, particularly Bernard Blancan as pied-noir officer Martinez and Sami Bouajila in the role of Abdelkader. Powerful and moving, 'Days of Glory' is also a contemporary and still politically valid story.