Translated into English as Days of Glory, Indigènes is the story of a unit of North African soldiers recruited to help liberate France in the waning days of the Second World War. Sold on the idea that fighting to free la patrie would bring them closer to the ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité, the natives (indigènes in French) of North Africa give it all in this epic film. Shedding blood for France, however, is not enough to overcome racism and discrimination within the military and the more valiant and competent among the indigènes see promotion after promotion going to the French soldiers.
Written and directed by Rashid Bouchareb, a French director of Algerian descent, Indigènes is the kind of film that makes me wish I taught twentieth-century history just so I could show it to my students. Both the first and second world wars stirred hope in European colonies around the globe. No doubt many natives of the colonies felt that fighting for freedom alongside their colonizers would open doors for them at home. Such hopes were more often than not quashed at the end of the war, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many who felt they had given as much, if not more, than the European soldier but received no recognition of their efforts. It’s not surprise the movie come in a period in which France struggles with its inability to accommodate immigrants arriving from its former colonies.
The legacy of the colonized in shaping the internal history of the colonizers is a topic seldom explored. And this film is a good place to start.
A review here.