Absorbing film tells of France's shabby treatment of the Muslim soldiers who fought by their side.
Rachid Bouchareb's Oscar-nominated film "Days of Glory" tells the overlooked World War II story of North African soldiers drafted to fight in Gen. Charles de Gaulle's army to liberate France. It's a war movie burning with discontent, a moving reminder of the sacrifices that Algerian Muslim infantrymen made for a motherland that treated them abominably.
The mainspring of the movie is indignation at a serious social injustice. Not all the white military men are leering racists, but the key characters are types more than individuals -- the loyal Algerian idealist who expects recognition for his valor; the poor, hard-as-nails Berbers who strip loot from enemy corpses; the mixed-race sergeant who serves as the men's advocate although he, as a Moroccan and a Christian, looks down on them.
The Muslim troops see combat in Italy, France and finally Alsace. But they don't get promotions or furloughs, and their mail is censored more heavily than is their white counterparts', sabotaging a cross-cultural love affair between an Algerian and a Frenchwoman he helped liberate.
"Days of Glory" borrows liberally from "Saving Private Ryan," with tense house-to-house fighting between the dwindling company of Arabs and a better-equipped contingent of Germans in a devastated French village. It also employs Steven Spielberg's climax, with a survivor making a 40-years-later visit to the servicemen's graveyard. It's a pity Bouchareb follows such a well-trod path to tell his story.
The film is too didactic to be great and drags on after it has made its point: France never granted its colonials their promised liberty, equality and fraternity. Still, Bouchareb's efficient direction, with a frightening battle scene around the corner from every lecture, makes the film compulsively watchable. In a real-life happy ending, the film created such a stir in France that President Jacques Chirac was compelled to pay Arab veterans the military pensions they had been denied for decades.