“Days of Glory” (2006): A post-colonial narrative about the “Middle East”
The “Middle East” can be portrayed cinematically through the eyes of a westerner or easterner, or both. Through formal and narrative aspects, it is easy to distinguish which perspective is favored. Furthermore, an analysis of these aspects can describe whether the film belongs to a colonial or post-colonial perspective, which defines the intended message and audience. Such an analysis can be applied to the film, “Days of Glory” (2006) directed by Rachid Bouchareb. The post-colonial and Arab portrayal of the Middle East will be analyzed through formal and narrative aspects.
The film, “Days of Glory” is told through the eyes of formerly colonized Arabs during a post-colonial era. Although the age of colonialism is over, the Arabs and their former colonizers maintain old colonial attitudes and class structures within the army. In the foreign European setting of the film, the soldiers represent the ”Middle East” as a transitioning character seeking reconciliation and recognition. The desire for recognition or belonging is part of the film’s main theme of cultural identity. Moreover, these themes pertain to the counter narrative structure of storytelling, which is told through the perspective of the colonized.
The post-colonialist and counter-narrative perspective can be understood through the construction of characters, events and themes. For example the establishment of the hero, the narrative goal, the conflict between chaos and order, and the approach to patriarchy are important.
Unlike a colonial film, “Days of Glory” does not tell the story of one colonizing hero but many colonized victims. The film is also narrated by a colonized voice where the role of the French colonizer is not sympathized. Moreover, although Arabs are portrayed as heroes, their achievements are ignored, and therefore they are defined as victims. This establishment of the ‘hero’ is post-colonial. Secondly, the narrative goals differ from that of a colonial film.
Unlike colonial characters, characters in “Days of Glory” do not focus on conquering land. Rather, their narrative goal is to establish racial unity among the French and secure a new cultural identity. This struggle is seen through the chaos of war where a series of ethical battles are won and lost. Like most post-colonial films, chaos reigns over order, and characters do not end in triumph.
One conflict between chaos and order is portrayed in the dining hall where non-French soldiers destroy a basket of tomatoes after hearing that they are reserved for the French. This act of chaos also challenges the colonialist ideology of patriarchy.
The aforementioned narrative patterns and themes of recognition and identity are best represented in the bunker scene where Saïd and Messaoud fight. This fight exposes their personal struggles of securing a new cultural identity among the French. A visual and narrative analysis of the scene will explain the conflict in detail.
The conflict setting is portrayed as private and disturbing because of the lowly lit bunker. Appearances aside, the dialogue also reflects the mood and perspectives of the characters.
The conflict begins when Messaoud jokingly identifies Saïd as a child-like and feminine. By doing this Messaoud challenges Saïd’s manhood and independence. Saïd then confronts Messaoud’s inability to communicate with his French ‘girlfriend’ and after further taunts threatens to kill Messaoud. Saïd also confronts Abdelkader when he intervenes.
Saiid says, “What does your book say? Continue reading that book but do you think (name) will be a colonel? Or (name) will be a colonel?” Here, it is also notable that the word, “colonel” is a western term. Saïd suggests that no Arab will ever hold a western title. In this scene, Said confronts all of the men’s desires to be acknowledged despite their race. This is the main theme in the film. Saïd’s doubt ridicules the different forms of recognition such as love, friendship, or honour. This scene of pan-arab disunity and self-hate exposes the weaknesses of the characters and the uncertainty of their future identity.
Other than setting and dialogue, camera angles also reflect the mood in the scene. When Saiid is talking to Messaoud and Abdelkader, there is an intimate shot reverse shot pattern. However, when he gestures against the soldiers, the camera rests behind their shoulders. This ‘over the shoulder’ shot is generally used to show the distance and contrast between one character and another. Another shot pattern establishes Saiid as tense and alone in a dark corner when compared to a shot where soldiers are standing side by side looking surprisingly at him.
Although the camera sets up the scene for Saiid to look antagonist, it also takes on different character’s perspectives or ‘gazes’. For example, when Saiid chooses to threaten Messaoud, the camera is angled up from his short position so that the spectator can imagine his perspective of Messaoud from below. The camera also takes the perspective of Messaoud when he talks to Saiid. The camera therefore re-establishes a sense of equality among all perspectives.
In conclusion, the formal aspects of the scene set up expectations for privacy, antagonism, and character sympathy through lighting, space, and camera angles.This scene also reflects the struggles in cultural identity that occur later on. Other examples that support the theme of unrecognized and unfulfilled identity are as follows.
As the narrative progresses, a Frenchman with less leadership than Abdelkader is promoted instead of him. Another example of unrecognition is when Messaoud unknowingly has his love letters censored. Ultimately, unethical and racist decisions like this fulfill All soldiers’ doubts of recognition.
In conclusion, the film “Days of Glory” is narrated using a colonized perspective that portrays the “Middle East” as an unrecognized hero. In other words, The “Middle East” is portrayed as a culture that has not fulfilled its goals in establishing a powerful identity among the French. This portrayal of the “Middle East” is established using characters and events that belong to the counter narrative structure.
Despite its ties to various ancient civilizations, westerners have often identified the “Middle East” as a foreign and savage land. However, the recent history of post-colonialism, globalism, and the war in the Middle East have sparked an interest in studying and re-creating films about Arab identity. Such is the case for Rachid Bouchareb who directed the post-colonial war film “Days of Glory” (2006).
By analyzing the film’s formal and narrative aspects, one can understand the film’s message, author and intended audience. In this age, it is especially important to view “Middle Eastern” films with a critical eye, in order to understand the various and challenging perspectives on politics and identity.