There is symmetry: El Alamein tracks a squad of Italian soldiers in the barren desert of North Africa. Days of Glory (its French title, Indigenes, bears a more accurate sense of the film) follows colonial North Africans who are sent charging up a barren mountain in Italy and then, once the combat moves to France, fast-talked into defending a motherland they have never seen and where they are not welcome.
Soldiers in both films are viewed as inferior and treated as cannon fodder, which sets up the central dynamic where we are introduced to a small squad to see their humanity, brotherhood and the sort of nobility that is visited upon people who do their best against the impossible. The small-group acting is the strength of both films.
Don't expect happy endings.
Writer/director Rachid Bouchareb intended Days of Glory to highlight racism and injustice heaped upon colonial soldiers. He did his job so well that last fall, then-President Jacques Chirac reinstituted pensions for North Africans who had been ignored apr & egrave;s la guerre. The heavy-handedness can grate, but the four soldiers at the heart of the story are so earnest as they fight their way across France -- and the battle scenes are so intense -- that Days of Glory is a terrific little war film.
The same is true of El Alamein, in which a college kid with a head full of nonsense about war shows up at a desolate front line where soldiers suffer typhus and artillery shellings. The scene where he is told "everyone here gets three miracles" is brilliant, as is a scene where a lost convoy, carrying nothing but boot polish and Mussolini's horse, deftly skewers the grand notions of war and shows why nearly every soldier in every army grows cynical.