Out of the original squad, only Abelkader (the patriot who is the unit's natural leader) survives at the end. Despite repeated promises, he is never promoted. In the epilogue, he travels from his tiny apartment to the cemetery where his friends are buried. Despite being surrounded by people during his journey, he is all but anonymous--his accomplishments ignored by time.
The members of the unit encounter discrimination and vicious backstabbing at every turn. Much of it is from fellow members. Some of the challenges come from the men trying to assert themselves in the military's local chain of command. The rest of the challenges are simply French officers being mean. Due to its complex nature, the story loses pacing in a number of sections but is never boring. This movie is a decent character study but no single character truly shines. The men are all portrayed as brave yet flawed but there is too much overlap in the portrayals and, if not for each man having differing facial hair, I sometimes got them confused. The story is unique even if the characters somewhat fill the typical war movie cliches. The movie was filmed in French and some of the storyline gets lost in translation. The title is a reflection of this as the title in French reads to the effect "Indigenous Soldiers".
Souni is the only one to hit a can during target practice while in training and is designated unit marksman. He falls in love with a French girl. His mail to her is arbitrarily censored. She tries to track him down but unknowingly goes to the same soldier intercepting the mail and he stonewalls her. The lovers never see each other again.
Said is illiterate and becomes the 'go-fer' for the unit's Sergeant. This gets him labeled as a "slave" by his fellow Algerians and mocked as a fool by the Sergeant. The Sergeant reacts violently and returns Said to the unit when Said spots a picture of the Sergeant's mother and says the two men's mothers look similar enough to be sisters. The implication is that the mother looks Arabic and the Sergeant may (or may not...) be hiding his true heritage. Despite confessing his hatred for the Sergeant when the Sergeant is wounded, it is his loyalty to him which gets Said killed when Said returns to evacuate the Sergeant moments before the room is hit by an anti-tank weapon.
Abelkader is arguably the movie's protagonist. He is a patriot but is also outspoken about his point of view, to the delight of his comrades and to his detriment with his superiors. This character was somewhat reminiscent of the stereotypical Sergeant who bucks all the trends to get the job done at all costs despite the incompetent officers from many other war movies (the tomato scene was almost John Wayne-esque).
The big disappointment is the generic battle scenes. They all have a 'been there done that' feel which has unfortunately become a staple of war films. There are rarely any films in which the battles are memorable (the village liberation following the ethnic cleansing scene from 'Tears Of The Sun' is a notable exception).
For the grand finale, the unit is dispatched to support US positions near Alsace. While en route, the French commander gets the majority of the unit killed and the supplies destroyed when he trips an explosive booby trap. Abelkader convinces the few left to complete the mission (which conveniently happen to be the focal characters minus the Sergeant who is alive but too badly wounded). When the Germans do arrive, they clearly outnumber the handful of Algerians by a significant margin. The defense of the village is marked change of pace for the film. It was reminiscent of some of the combat scenes from 'Band Of Brothers'. The spoiler for this sequence is that with all of the German weapons being fired at them, all of the Algerians are only harmed by one weapon, a Panzerschreck (German version of a Bazooka), of which there only seems to be one in the battle. To complete the war-movie cliche, the tough Sergeant has to be shot in the head by a random dispassionate German soldier after the room he was in is blown up by the anti-tank weapon. Abelkader valiantly concludes the defense of the village alone and nearly gets killed by friendly fire when the French portion of his unit finally arrives. The few Germans who remain are quickly defeated and the French are even more quick to take credit when the press are told what to print. The final insult of the movie comes when Abelkader tries to report to the Colonel as the officer's jeep passes the building he is leaving. A junior officer intercepts Abelkader and orders him to take his place in the line of soldiers. Abelkader protests and tries to explain but his words fall on unconcerned ears. With the exception of the deaths of his friends, things are much the same for Abelkader and the rest of the Algerians at the conclusion as they were at the beginning of the movie. A text crawler at the conclusion not only reflects this but decries it as well, bemoaning the fact that Algerian soldiers' pensions were very small until changed recently by the French government.
Thanks, MacStyler and Rev Yve!