What happened to the men of the French Expeditionary Corps, formed in 1943 of the Algerian Infantry Division, the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division and the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division, is the basis of the French film "Days of Glory."These were not native Frenchmen: They lived in far lands of desert and scrub vegetation until an army marched in one day a century earlier and raised a strange three-colored flag and said: This is your destiny.

"Days of Glory" tells their story, and, like many unit tributes from that war, it could be a better movie. But it certainly convinces you of the nobility of the souls of the men whose boots were on the ground and whose bodies went into that same ground.

Director Rachid Bouchareb employs a familiar structure, the one so overused in the films of the late '40s and early '50s that it became a cliche (see Film Notes on Page 32). A group of country boys, each with a unique yet universal background (poverty, oppression, hardscrabble lives, hopelessness), joins up despite the doubts of parents. The sergeant is a tough little popinjay named Martinez (Bernard Blancan), who is hard to please and always knows what's right. They fear him, they love him, they hate him, they need him.

Is there anything new here? Honestly, not really. The content is the same, the plot the familiar litany of ordeals leavened by soapy interludes. But the fight that develops is taut, tough and extremely bitter; it's never showy in the grinding, big-movie Spielbergian way, but a portrait of the war's daily interface with hell in a very small space, as the four stand against a much larger unit. You think: Thank God for courage. And you think: Thank God for tommy guns. And you think: They're not peasants of color, they're heroes and the French were lucky to have them, even if they seem not to have figured that out yet.

-- Stephen Hunter

Days of GloryR, 120 minutes

Contains intense combat and blood. In French and Arabic with subtitles. At Landmark's Bethesda Row.