Gaul tackles war taboos

'Days of Glory' leading new wave of French war films

PARIS — Traditionally, French cinema has left shoot-’em-up war films to Hollywood.

But a new generation of younger Gallic directors is now encroaching on that turf — and raking up forgotten parts of French history.

Rachid Bouchareb’s $17 million “Days of Glory,” currently filling theaters in France, will be followed next month by “Mon Colonel,” produced and co-scripted by Costa-Gavras, about the Algerian war. Meanwhile, “Hostage” helmer Florent Siri is in post-production on a distinctly American-style actioner about the Algerian war, called “Intimate Enemies.”

Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory,” about North African soldiers who helped liberate France in World War II, garnered a hefty 800,000-plus ticket sales for StudioCanal subsid Mars Distribution in its first frame last week — putting it safely on course for a cume of 2.5 million admissions or more.

The Weinstein Co. will release it Stateside.

Recently chosen as Algeria’s candidate for the foreign-language Oscar, the pic attracted a lot of publicity in France with its clutch of well-known leads — and its theme, which speaks to France’s strained race relations today.

Jamel Debbouze, one of Gaul’s best-loved comedians, Sami Naceri, of “Taxi” fame, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila and Bernard Blancan were joint winners of Cannes’ actor prize at this year’s fest.

In a rare coup for a bigscreen movie, the pic prompted the French government to raise the pensions of war vets from France’s former colonies to the same levels as French vets.

Bouchareb is already talking about a follow-up, dealing with North African soldiers’ involvement in Indochina and the subsequent independence movements, but he’s also being courted for projects Stateside, via his new agents at William Morris.

“I’d like to do a Western telling the story of North America’s indigenous population,” Bouchareb tells Variety. “I’m only interested in directing action films if they have something of substance to say.”

Another war-themed film among the winners at Cannes this year, Bruno Dumont’s Grand Prix winner “Flanders,” came from 3B Prods. However, Dumont’s non-specific Gulf War isn’t associated with events central to French history.

The same can’t be said for “Mon Colonel,” which was adapted from Francis Zamponi’s novel.

“Algeria was a subject I’d wanted to tackle for a while, and although there have been documentaries about it, it’s a subject that filmmakers have neglected. It’s still taboo in France,” said Costa-Gavras.

Pic, which screened at the Toronto Film Festival, will open Nov. 15 in France via Pathe. But before that it will screen in competition at the RomeFilmFest Oct. 17.

French audiences will be getting another dose of the Algerian war, albeit with a more overtly American-style approach, in Siri’s “Enemies,” starring Benoit Magimel and Albert Dupontel. Pic shot in Morocco this summer.

Siri, whose last pic was the Bruce Willis starrer “Hostage,” makes no bones about his desire to emulate U.S. war films in the vein of “Platoon” or “Saving Private Ryan.”

“When I was a 20-year-old moviegoer, I used to wonder why it was that American directors made great action films about the Vietnam war, while nobody in France made films about Algeria. We need to be telling our own history in this form,” Siri says.

Siri promises “Enemies” will be full of revelations about what really went on in the former French colony’s war of liberation, a conflict that France only officially qualified as a war in 1999.

“It’s not widely known that France used napalm in Algeria. That’s one of the things the film shows,” says Siri, “and also the use of torture. I’m sure it will be meaningful to Americans, because of the parallels with Iraq.”

The film’s French distrib, SND, is handling international sales and will be touting a 10 minute promo reel at AFM. Distribber will release the film in Gaul in the spring or fall of 2007.

Does “Days of Glory’s” success bode well for other local war films at the Gallic box office? Not necessarily, says Mars topper Stephane Celerier.

“There is something magical about this film, because of its cast and subject matter. Its success won’t necessarily mean success for other war films — but it may make other French producers want to try their hand at the genre.”

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