In 1943, more than 233,000 soldiers hailing from the French colonies of Africa are mobilized. Obviously, their objective is to free France of the German occupation, which has been lasting ever since the signature of the armistice of 1940. As the film documents the injustice that the African soldiers faced in the French army, the story follows four men. Saïd (Jamel Debouze) is an Algerian shepherd who excels in throwing grenades. Corporal Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) enlisted in the army to fight "for freedom".
In fact, he believes that at the end of the war, France's colonial (read: "coloured") subjects will get the same rights as French citizens. Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), the group's gunner who has patriotic feelings toward France, plans to settle down in France after the war because he feels respected by people in Marseilles more than he ever had felt back in his own country by the French colonial authorities. Yassir (Samy Naceri) enlisted in order to have money.
Since the film talks about oppressed ethnic groups within the Free French forces, Indigènes, from my experience as a movie viewer, paved the way for Miracle at St. Anna. Obviously, unlike the latter, the former does a better job in looking at the issues of racism and camaraderie. Indeed, unlike Miracle at St. Anna, this film has a focus. By talking of four soldiers' individual fate, Indigènes brilliantly shows how these Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian soldiers courageously fought for a country that, in many respects, doesn't consider itself as their country. As the character of Abdelkader (who believes in the French republican values) pointed it out, if France claims to be a protector of freedom, equality and brotherhood, how can it discriminate soldiers on the account of their ethnicity? For instance, we learn that the highest grade a "coloured" soldier could reach was corporal despite his talent.
Obviously, while there's a certain distance between the director and the subject itself, it's hard to suppress our feeling that the film is somehow biased. In fact, by presenting a very rosy image of the "coloured" soldiers from the colonies, the film only focus almost entirely on the bad treatment given to these soldiers. After all, given that the "indigènes" fought in Italy, it's surprising that Bouchareb doesn't talk about the massive rape of Italian women and girls by Moroccan soldiers.
Despite that minor flaw, Indigènes is a film that should please to both history buffs and people seeking entertainment alike. It's certainly a smart film that underlines an important irony in France's history. Indeed, while France needed its African subjects to be free, it has only showed gratitude to its white soldiers (up until the 2000s). All in all, Indigènes is not the most historically accurate war film one is likely see, but it sure will help France to live in peace with its dark past.
|Screenplay:||Rachid Bouchareb and Olivier Lorelle|
Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debouze, Roschdy Zem, Samy Naceri