At Last, 'Days of Glory' Will Nobly March Into Town

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 11, 2007

It's one of the frustrating peccadilloes of movie distribution that when the Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film are announced, chances are good that they haven't reached us yet.

Case in point: "Days of Glory," this year's nominee from Algeria. Directed by French filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb, this World War II drama tells the relatively unknown story of the North African forces that came to the aid of the Allies on behalf of the French (also known as North Africa's colonizers).

- I'm looking forward to the arrival of "Days of Glory," but I cheated: I've seen it. And it's magnificent, a classical wartime epic with lots of action and drama, but with the added and gracefully delineated subtext of a group of men -- Moroccans and Algerians, for the most part -- whose military service opens all sorts of possibilities, from a newfound sense of strength and pride to rage and nascent revolutionary activism.

With an outstanding cast of actors -- Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila and Bernard Blancan -- Bouchareb has made a respectable addition to the genre as well as something completely new, not only bringing an important story to light but subtly commenting on contemporary French -- and global -- politics. Don't miss it.

- This is going to sound perverse, because its pedigree couldn't be better, but I can't help feeling apprehensive about "Rescue Dawn," Werner Herzog's fictionalization of one of his best nonfiction films. The film tells the extraordinary story of Dieter Dengler (played by Christian Bale), a German immigrant to the United States, who as a Navy pilot was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War, eventually escaping from a Viet Cong prison camp.

This doesn't tell the half of it, and it's easy to see why Herzog's 1998 documentary about Dengler, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," confoundingly remains one of his more obscure films. Dengler's harrowing and heroic tale deserved to be shared with a wide audience; it's just hard to see how Herzog could improve on the original, not just the documentary (Netflix it right now!) but Dengler himself, who though clearly still haunted by his experience has forged his own quietly triumphant happy ending.

I'll give "Rescue Dawn" a chance, but my heart will always belong to Little Dieter.

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