Monday, March 7, 2011

بلديون Indigènes: le cinéma comme agent social/ Days of Glory: cinema as social agent


This film has been referenced in 2 previous posts, The Liberation of Paris: Black and White Photos, and Whitening the Troops, and Reel Arabs and Real Arabs At the 2011 Oscars: Revolution, Independence, and History, and with good reason. The film has had not only a major impact cinematographically for its artistry, but has been an exemplar of art that impacts contemporary social reality.

The film was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival 2006, where the ensemble cast of 5 men won the Best Actor Award. It was also nominated for the 2006 Academy Awards (Oscars) for Best Foreign Language Film. The Cannes Film Festival site, provides a useful synopsis in French and in English:
1943. Ils n'avaient encore jamais foulé le sol français, mais parce que c'est la guerre, Saïd, Abdelkader, Messaoud et Yassir vont s'engager comme 130 000 autres " Indigènes " dans l'armée française pour libérer " la mère patrie " de l'ennemi nazi. Ces héros que l'histoire a oubliés vaincront en Italie, en Provence, et dans les Vosges, avant de se retrouver seuls à défendre un village alsacien contre un bataillon allemand.

1943. They had not yet set foot in France, but because it's war, Saïd, Abdelkader, Messaoud and Yassir are going to join the French army to free the motherland from the Nazi enemy, like 130 000 other "natives". These heroes, forgotten by History, will vanquish in Italy, in Provence, and in the Vosges before finding themselves alone defending a village in Alsace against a German battalion.
Each of the 4 main characters is a North African who joins the French Colonial Forces in WWII for diverse personal and political reasons, but each fights hard and honorably to rescue the "motherland" France from Nazi occupation. Their sergeant, a European Algerian, or pied noir, represents another dimension of the colonial troops, those white French colonists who had lived all their lives, and sometimes for generations, in the French colonies. They had a culture that was/ is unique relative to both the colonies and to the metropole.

Over the course of the film, it is evident that they and the French Colonial Forces are discriminated against by the French command, by their own officers, and by other troops. The dynamic of their interrelationships and their personal stories creates a historical portrait of the French Colonial Forces in World War II. In the end, the film joins the present, as the one surviving soldier visits the graves of the others, including the pied noir sergeant.


It is the closing credits of the film which caused the most stir in France. In them, it is stated that the pensions of the French Colonial Forces were frozen by then French President Charles de Gaulle in 1959, when Morocco and Tunisia were already independent, and Algeria was at war for its independence. In fact, the freeze followed on a putsch by the Algerian Army in May 1958, which led to De Gaulle's return to political power, and the reform of the French Constitution to create the Fifth French Republic, and to better control Algeria, considered a rebellious French province. The closing credits further stated that despite being ordered in 2002 by the State Council (after a long legal battle) to restore full pensions to the former French Colonial Forces including back payment to 1959, no French Government had complied.

As a result of the film, there was a great polemic in France, and then President Chirac was forced to comply with the State Council order. For the first time since 1959 French Colonial Forces veterans received the same pensions as their European French counterparts. However, the back payments have never been made, nor is there any evidence that they will--over 40 years of payments held at 1959 rates have not been compensated at the appropriate rates for all those years.

Nonetheless, the film بلديون Indigènes (dialogue in Arabic and French) or Days of Glory directly affected political events, and the lives of those soldiers who had survived to 2006. Moreover, it served as an important historical corrective for the majority of French who were unaware of this aspect of their history, and as an inspiration for the French of Maghrebi origin. Not only their history, but the talent of their contemporaries is remarkable.

The same director, Rachid Bouchareb, a Frenchman of Algerian descent and the same French of Maghrebi descent cast have collaborated in the 2010 Hors-la-loi (Outside the Law), nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar 2011--which is set during the Algerian War that followed WWII.

The following are clips from Indigènes/ Days of Glory, which Rachid Bouchareb described in an interview as "a popular film of high quality", "which is a part of our history".





Indigènes, Partie 1 sur 12, film soustitré en anglais Days of Glory
Full Film subtitled in English, Part 1 of 12

Related Posts:
The Liberation of Paris: Black and White Photos, and Whitening the Troops
Reel Arabs and Real Arabs At the 2011 Oscars: Revolution, Independence, and History

See Also:
'Days of Glory': The powerful "Days of Glory" deftly tells the story of four men from North Africa who fought for France.
Film moves Chirac to back down over war pensions

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