In a strange bit of timing, Days Of Glory, a movie about North Africans fighting for the French in World War II, arrives in theaters not long after Flyboys, a movie about Americans fighting for the French in World War I. Yes, it seems like everyone's fighting for the French in theaters these days, except for the French themselves. But where Tony Bill's teenybopper-friendly tale of handsome young men and their flying machines barely touched on the culture-clash aspect of Americans fighting under the French, Days Of Glory is obsessed with the bitter irony of North Africans fighting for their colonial oppressors. The Muslim soldiers here fight a battle on two fronts, waging warfare against the Nazis while combating the racism, oppression, and poisonous condescension of their French superiors.
Writer-director Rachid Bouchareb wastes little time getting his green recruits to Europe, where a group of largely illiterate Muslims have the peculiar honor of fighting for a French "motherland" they've never visited. Days Of Glory keeps whittling down its cast until only a handful of outnumbered and overmatched Muslim soldiers square off against a much more formidable Axis force for a tense and exciting climax, marred by a coda that echoes Saving Private Ryan too closely, unconvincing old-man makeup and all.
Just as most contemporary American war movies and, especially, leftist documentaries seem to comment directly and indirectly on the current conflict in Iraq, Days Of Glory none-too-subtly reflects the simmering tensions between French Catholics and Muslim immigrants from France's former colonies. The film obviously won't have the same resonance or timeliness in the States that it does in France, where domestic Muslim unrest is front-page news, but there's something depressingly universal about its depiction of uneducated, dirt-poor young men being treated as disposable cannon fodder. Days Of Glory isn't subtle in its exploration of the racial politics of warfare, but its grim, cynical portrayal of young men considered worthy enough to die for a foreign country, yet unworthy of being treated as equals, proves bluntly powerful.