Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mort pour la France

Just back from (most of ) an Open University French Film day at the Cornerhouse with a showing of Rachid Bouchareb's Indigènes. The film was introduced by Isabelle Vanderschelden in French(!) which I understood pretty well and was helpful as a prologue to the film.
Unfortunately the film then had English subtitles - some were necessary but French would have been better. The film tells the story of four Algerians who join up with the French army in 1942 to fight 'pour la patrie' (France) - in scenes of great patriotism - and follows their tale as they help to liberate their country from the Nazis. In the process they discover that their African bodies are somewhat less valuable than French bodies, they are less likely to be promoted and their sergeant - a pied noir (a French national living in Algeria) who often fights their corner is in the end their master race. Powerful scenes of prejudice extending to the most trivial rubbing it in events.
Along the campaign in Italy, France and Alsace, they realize that French soldiers are promoted, has better food and have leaves to visit their families, while the Arab soldiers are shamefully discriminated and treated like 2nd ranking soldiers (from IMDB)

The film was written out of the injustice of Algerian ex-service pensions being frozen when Algeria became independent and in spite of a vote in 2002 for their reinstatement it kept getting postponed until the film was released and Mme Chirac told her husband that 'something must be done'
Echoes of soldiers from the British Empire who also fought in WWII and and also found themselves kept at arms length when the war was over?
The film was released in English as 'Days of Glory'


Tahar said...

A thing to start with.., None of the four soldiers is Algerian they are Moroccan or born in France.

herein the true story behind Algerian fought with the Franch army against the Nazi.

Europe is celebrating the anniversary of one of the most important events of the 20th century, their defeat of the Nazis on May 8 1945 signaling the end of World War II.

Contrary to the excitement of victory won 63 years ago, France is facing the serious allegation of conducting a massacre. While, on 8 May 1945 Europe was able to breathe a sigh of relief, Algeria mourned as it continued to remain under French colonization. Algerians fought along side the French in the fight against the German Nazis together in hopes of gaining their freedom, however, their dreams were dashed when they returned to home after the war to find French soldiers murdering Algerian survivors.

Algerians have been commemorating May 8 for years and call for "the acceptance of genocide and an apology" from France. France, in pursuit of version of history, continues to say, "Let’s leave the past to the historians," in response to these calls. The Paris administration, which made the Armenians' genocide allegations into a law in 2001, is attempting to go one step further and introduce a law to punish those who deny the genocide. The discussions to start in French Parliament on May 18 will be conducted under the shadow of the Algerian massacre.

Zaman went to Algeria on the 61st anniversary of the massacre and spoke to witnesses of the event and to local historians. Witnesses to this event are now in their 90s, however, they remember how the French colonial administration incinerated thousands of Algerians in lime ovens and dumped their bodies into the rivers. Despite the calls for apology, France passed a law praising colonialism last year, further infuriating the Algerians. The opposition al-Islah Party in Algeria has taken new steps taken in a reaction to Paris's attitude, by submitting to parliament a proposed law condemning French colonialism and considering it a crime. Al-Islah Party Secretary-General Dr .Mohammed Djahid Younsi, speaking to Zaman, stressed that colonizing countries must apologize and pay compensation to people they colonized. France is double-dealing, according to the general manager of the French newspaper published by French Courrier d'Algerie, Ahmet Toumiat.

Algerian historian Professor Mohammed El-Corso speaks out against the understanding of justice in France: "It is a double standard that France replies, 'Let’s leave the past to the historians,' to the calls by Algerians, while passing a law for the Armenians. There is such an odd understanding of justice in France. It is as though some things have become the property of France."

Algeria sent its young men to fight for France’s freedom against the Nazi occupation in Europe; in return it was promised independence. The Algerian people believed they would be freed as soon as France was released from the grip of Nazi occupation, and the fall of Germany was welcomed with a festival atmosphere in Algeria. Algerians organized marches on May 8 to celebrate their victory and to remember the promise given to them. The demonstrations held in the cities of Setif, Guelma and Kherrata in the east of the country turned bloody when 40-45,000 Algerians, according to Algeria and the United States, and 20,000, according to France, were murdered within a week.

Hamla was 19 in 1945 and one of the organizers of the march in Guelma. "We wanted to celebrate the victory and remind the Americans, British and Russian people their promise of independence," says Hamla, clearly remembering those days. Hamla welcomed us into his modest home in an Algerian suburb, and he said they flew the Algerian People's Party flag along side French, British, American and Russian flags during the march, and shouted slogans of freedom. Hamla says they confronted the French Gendarmerie Units waiting for them and violence broke out when the gendarme began shooting at civilians.

A state of emergency was declared and the French army began to massacre local Algerians. "We were gullible then and we did not think the French would kill us. They betrayed us and the other allies forgot their promises also," says a mournful Hamla, remembering that French soldiers killed ten of thousands of Algerians. While some of the bodies were buried in mass graves outside the city, some of them were burned in furnaces so not to distress the French governor with the smell of rotting corpses, which Ben Hamla likened to the Nazi "death chambers." The lime furnaces outside Guelma were turned into death furnaces, where thousands of Algerians were brought to die, their bodies were completely incinerated. We smelt the burning corpses", Hamla added.

Said, who withheld his surname, was 17 at that time he joined the march in Setif, and he says murdered Algerians were carried in trucks to Kherrata River and then dumped. "They threw even some living people into the trucks", says the old Algerian remembering those days, adding that France is still his "enemy." Said says they stoned the French soldiers that started firing at them and tried to lower the Algerian flag. "They killed anybody they saw in the streets, and they raped our women. They even stabbed a pregnant woman in the stomach. I saw all these events", says Said, remembering that French soldiers confiscated guns and sharp tools from the organizers of the marches to prevent any incidents of violence.

Amar Aliat, 98, whom we came across wearing traditional clothes and wandering on the road where the march took place in Setif, is a war veteran that fought for French independence in 1939. Ali said they were made to wear French military uniforms and he remembers listening to a speech made by French commanders telling Algerian soldiers that Algeria would gain independence if it defeated the Nazis. Ali says all the shops were closed, and the all streets were empty when they returned to Setif. General Duval, known as the "Setif Butcher," in command of the French army executing the massacres, told the French in Algeria, "We established peace in ten years. If France does not do anything now, then a similar difficult situation could happen again and next time it may be unsolvable." Just as the salvation movement started in 1954 brought independence to Algeria. Algeria was a French colony for 130 years before gaining independence in 1962.


rajm said...

Many thanks for this, just a couple of extra notes:
Zaman is (I hope ) a newspaper
One of the film's scenes occurs in Setif (in 1942) I think it is the only place in Africa which is identified, so the educated reader is clearly intended to take note!

rajm said...

Sorry, forgot this PS - that the director and at least one of the actors are half Algerian (not sure of Sami Bouajila's origins?)
Yes (for my benefit!) Zaman is a newspaper.