Imagine you are fighting in a war to defend a country you believe in hole-heartedly. It isn’t your own, at least not originally, but you feel as though it is on some level your home. Now imagine that you fought and won back the liberation of that country only to go unnoticed for your important contribution and eventually be forgotten by the country you fought for. This is the story of hundreds of Arab soldiers who fought alongside France in World War II and is now the controversial subject of film festival favorite and Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, INDIGENES (DAYS OF GLORY). The film focuses on one particular platoon that must fight off the German army and then return to camp to fight off prejudice and racism within their own army. Historically, the manipulation and subsequent disposal of the Arab and North African soldiers who fought for France before being dismissed without pay is a story that has gone untold in any official capacity for years. INDIGENES is an unapologetic declaration of their contribution to the liberation of France from the Nazis and is for some the first time the history will be heard. Crisp imagery, harrowing situations and stellar performances make INDIGENES not only poignant and socially significant but emotionally gripping and entertaining as well.
After scoring its Oscar nod earlier this year (which it lost to THE LIVES OF OTHERS), INDIGENES made the leap from the festival circuit to nationwide North American distribution. It wasn’t seen by many and The Weinstein Company now hopes that its critical acclaim will help it find a wider audience on DVD. The strength of the film itself makes the DVD well worth the rental or purchase. The DVD only boasts two special features, a making-of and a short film by director, Rachid Bouchareb. The short film, entitled “The Colonial Friend”, is a crudely drawn retelling of the North African soldiers who were also used by the French government and then denied their due. Mostly black and white, with the occasional burst of red, the pencil-shaded sketches are paced at a sometimes-painful speed that is only further exacerbated by the awkward silence of the soundtrack. It is not devoid of ambition, merit or emotion; it is just an effort that is not entirely realized. The making-of INDIGENES is a twenty-minute piece that shows just how genuinely passionate all that were involved in this project truly were throughout the production and still are now that it has been embraced by international audiences. This is a passion that was rewarded upon the film’s debut at Cannes in 2006, where the ensemble of talented male actors won a special recognition as a group in the Best Actor category.
INDIGENES is certainly not light fare but it is an important film that moves audiences with its bravery and compulsion to be honest about history and the nature of men divided by race and class. It makes the act of war seem all the more futile when those who are fighting it do so with such conviction but are then treated with such disdain and repulsion by those they thought would be there to thank them.