interviews

Rachid Bouchareb

"Opening a chapter of history"

Selected for the first time in official competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, with Days of Glory, French director Rachid Bouchareb offers us an engaging film that unveils a little-known period of French history, that of the significant contribution made by soldiers from a French African colony during WWII and their active participation in the liberation of Italy and France.

EMC: What were your motivations for making Days of Glory ?
Rachid Bouchareb: I am of Algerian origin, but I was born in France, I live in France and I feel very French. Deep down, I wanted to tell this little-known chapter of French history because we are part of it. The adventure of these men who went abroad to save their country, to free it, to fight against Fascism and Nazism, is a return to the colonial past from which we come. As a French citizen, I wanted to open this chapter, by making a film that contributes to the topical debate on the history of immigration, which has to be looked at as part of history as a whole. In some ways it’s our Marie-Antoinette.

How much of the film is historical fact and how much is fiction?
The whole film comes from factual material that was researched, except for the village scene in Alsace, which actually involved over a hundred soldiers and enormous losses, and that I reduced to a dozen characters. For the rest, each detail, such as the giving out of food, equipment, the fighting, is based on eyewitness accounts from men who took part in these events or army archive reports. I was very worried because the subject had never before been treated in cinema, so each scene had to be right. Using anecdotes, I wanted to leave behind a ‘perfect’ account. But I also wanted to have the freedom not to remain faithful to history. I had the opportunity to work with great actors and they made me feel like a spectator on a voyage.

The credits and some images are in black and white. Is this the way you wanted to make the whole film?
At one point, I had the idea of wanting to make viewers understand that it is a real historic event. Then I decided to use colour as a way of distancing myself because the film has a hue that could be defined as ‘discoloured’. I found the archive images for the credits from Algerian television.

Did you have doubts about getting financing for Days of Glory
What is great is that we found partners in France, even if it was slow and complicated. But we never thought the film – which depicts a return to the past and this colonial culture, whose past, present and future permeates all those who live in France – could not be made. But what is most important is the film’s success here at Cannes, to be able to show it on the Mediterranean with Africa across the water.

FL