Film #49 in the World War II Marathon shows that war is never truly black and white!
Written By: Rachid Bouchareb & Olivier Lorelle
Directed By: Rachid Bouchareb
Good versus evil, black and white, nary a shade of gray to be seen. The great majority of film goers, and even the great majority of humans period, tend to think of war in this way. There has to be a good guy and a bad guy, a force to root for and a force to cheer against. In no war has this way of thinking been more prevalent than in World War II, it was the greatest crusade against evil that the modern world has seen, depending on who you ask. Therein lies the hidden truth of the war against Nazism, the good guys weren’t always good and the bad guys weren’t always bad. Some movies present this truth in the form of ambiguity, but rare is the movie that presents the great hidden truth of the most easily labeled modern war from the perspective of the good guys being quite bad.
It’s important that Indigènes has a strong leading cast, and it does. The leading men in Indigènes must fall into certain types while at the same time driving home the thesis Rachid Bouchareb wants to put forth of French injustice towards their own, non-native soldiers. Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila & Bernard Blancan give authentic and engaging performances as soldiers who represent France, warts and all. Some just want to be soldiers, others want to be the best soldiers they can be, one is sick of it all and just wants to make money, while still another is searching for love. It is true that they all play specific types, but the subject matter and their performances elevate those types into something more. I can honestly say that I was invested in every second I spent with the soldiers of Indigènes.
There are many similarities to be found between Indigènes and another World War II film that I am quite fond of, Saving Private Ryan. The denouement that befalls the soldiers of Indigènes in an isolated French town is almost exactly the same as what awaits the American soldiers at the end of Saving Private Ryan. The way the action plays out is also very similar, albeit on a much smaller and more intimate scale. If the director and co-writer, the aforementioned Mr. Bouchareb, hadn’t attached the thesis of injustice within their own ranks to his movie then it would be easy to call Indigènes a rip off of Saving Private Ryan. But, the key difference is that Saving Private Ryan plays its final moments as sadly poetic and triumphant, while Indigènes plays those same moments and beats as sadly melancholy, tragic and defeatist. Two movies take on the same filming style and almost the same exact setting, but Indigènes takes a much more pessimistic approach and pulls it off.
Another way in which Mr. Bouchareb succeeds is in his way of filming the action scenes found in Indigènes. They are on a much smaller scale than most World War II movies I have covered in this marathon, but they are just as well filmed and put together as any of the larger and more bombastic action sequences you will find in other war movies, or action movies for that matter. They don’t appear to be intricately laid out, but they most definitely are and that shines through in every motion of camera across the battlefield. The end sequence in particular is a bravura piece of action filmmaking, something I did not expect from this movie, I am not afraid to admit that.
There are moments where Indigènes reaches too far with its actors, well more specifically with their stories. Bouchareb pushes for a moment here and there that is a tad too on the nose or too sentimental, but even those moments are forgivable. Indigènes has something to say, what it has to say isn’t only important but it’s also poignant. It’s sad, moving, and frustrating to see the way the African and Arab soldiers are treated by the French. It is true that German bullets don’t pick and choose who to kill. If only the French had taken that to heart and truly believed in the message of equality they were espousing. But, they didn’t, and as far as I know they still haven’t chosen to recognize the contributions that colonial troops made to the war effort. The only good to come out of that scenario that I know of is Indigènes, and while it may be hollow, at least the world is being allowed to hear this story and see it done in a quality fashion.
P.S. A note left by my fiancee while I stopped typing to take care of a few errands,
“Sarah loves Billy Boy and thinks he is the sweetest man ever for taking care of laundry, garbage, kid and mutt while she is all sick and yucky feeling. She doesn’t know how to thank him because it means so much that he is here for her even when she is all sickly and feeling so sad. And it was also so sweet that he went to her doctor appointment to pick her up. What a perfect man!”
Yeah, you read that right, perfect, deal with that suckas!
P.P.S.: If you never hear from me again it’s probably because said fiancee killed me for leaving the note that she left for me in the published version of this review, it was nice knowing you all :)