Paul Dale talks to filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb about how North Africa saved France in WWII, the subject of his excellent new war film Days of Glory
Forty-seven-year-old Rachid Bouchareb certainly knows how to drum up business. Having already presented his most recent directorial work, Days of Glory - a visceral, provocative and moving film about one small Moroccan platoon’s involvement in freeing France from the Nazis in WWII - to Jacques Chirac, with the surprising outcome that Chirac began the process of pension reparations for these largely unheralded and unthanked brothers in arms, Bouchareb has now taken on Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister.
On 12 March this year Bouchareb took out an open letter in The Guardian to Tony Blair asking him to honour war pension payments to the Nepalese Ghurkhas, the colonial British army brigade who have been treated with the same fiscal disregard as France’s once profligate North African forces.
Speaking to him some days before this in the Covent Garden Hotel, Bouchareb is neat, slightly brusque (in that way that only middle-aged men raised in France can be) and unnecessarily apologetic about his English. While born in Paris, Bouchareb is of Algerian decent and quickly makes it clear that Days of Glory is definitely a work of deep-seated passion. ‘For 15 years I have made movies in France, and every time I try to make sure that they come from inside me, from my history because my family are immigrants, they came from Algeria, they lived through the worst of French colonialism there. My ancestors served in WWI and WWII and my uncle was a soldier in Indochina. For 50 years my family has been fighting French wars. All this history I use for this film. But still I always knew that Days of Glory was going to be a hard sell to indigenous French people, because basically it’s about a bunch of Arabic Muslims coming to liberate France.’
Despite having had trouble raising the €14.6 million the film cost to make, the film has been a huge success in France and Africa. Bouchareb’s voice takes on an air of smugness ‘Of course you know one of the extreme right parties in France put people up on the radio to tell me that “your story is not true; that Arabs are lazy people” and other bullshit, and still this film was very successful.’
Passing up the chance to talk about one of the film’s stars, Samy Naceri, who is being held by French police on suspicion of attempted murder after getting into a violent fight outside a nightclub, Bouchareb instead returns to more aesthetic concerns, pre-empting my question on filmic influences. ‘I watched so many war movies in preparation for making this film, you know, lots of Sam Fuller, but my influence at the end was a lot of war documentaries. I felt so drowned by it all that I tried to forget everything and go with my instincts. And after many months, maybe a year, I realise I have kept a singular vision and that I am shooting every scene from my gut.’
Days of Glory is on selected release from Fri 30 Mar.