Django Reinhardt was one of the most brilliant pioneers of European jazz and the father of Gypsy Swing. "Django" grippingly portrays one chapter in the musician's eventful life and is a poignant tale of survival. Constant danger, flight and the atrocities committed against his family could not make him stop playing.Written by
Exceptional treatment of an exceptional European Jazz Musician
World Premier at Berlin film festival, Feb. 9, 2017. Django Reinhardt was one of the most brilliant pioneers of European jazz and the father of Gypsy Swing. "Django" portrays one chapter in the musician's eventful life and is a gripping tale of survival. Constant danger, flight and the atrocities committed against his family could not make him stop playing.
Rarely is an opening festival film so compelling and overwhelming that you feel as if the festival ended right there the trip to Berlin would have been justified. Reda Kateb as Django Reinhardt the gypsy musician with the German sounding name, made me forget I was watching an actor playing a part but felt like I was watching the jazz legend Django himself back from the great beyond in the flesh, carefully trimmed Gable moustache and all. This film like last year's Jazz Legend Berlin biopic "Miles Ahead" (Miles Davis) assumes that the audience knows the personality in question well enough not to require any back story and plunges right into a certain segment of the life under scrutiny. In actual fact, while Three fingered guitarist Django Reinhardt was highly regarded by black American Jazzmen such as Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, et alia, because his name is mainly associated with the french "Le Hot" jazz scene of the thirties and forties, he is not as well known to the general American public as he should be. Django was simply a musical genius whose hot jazz quintet was the hottest band around in France and surrounding countries up to and including the German occupation years of WW II. This film focuses on two things: The incredible music of Django with half a dozen virtuoso foot stomping musical sequences, and (2) the persecution of Gypsies under Nazi racism. The musical sections show in great detail the fantastic guitar fingerings of the inimitable Django as well as his backup musicians, notably the clarinetist who was also jamtastic.
A German officer who is a great fan of Django's lines up a German tour for the Hot Quintet to entertain Nazi bigwigs in Germany. However there are restrictions that must be met supposedly removing all Black Jazz elements such as the Blues and certain percussion instruments deemed as racially impure by the Nazis. Django finally realizing that if he goes on the tour he will probably never return flees with his feisty mother and family south hoping to make it over the border to Switzerland and safety. Apprehended there he is forced to stage a concert for a group of high level Nazis at a luxurious lakeside villa, but the heat of Djangos hot jazz drives the Germans into a Frenzy and results in a riot. Django escapes in the confusion and survives the war. At the very end after France is liberated a Requiem he composed to honor the Exterminated Gypsies is played on a momentous church organ and Django's heroism is recognized. A final message on screen notifies us that all but the opening bars of Django's requiem were lost, but have been reconstructed by serious musicians to prove that Reinhardt was not only a virtuoso performer but a noteworthy composer as well. Magnificent, beyond words. Cécile de France was also captivating as Django's fictionalized Gadjo (Non-Gypsy) girlfriend who marries a Nazi to save her own life but risks it at the end to save Django, and the old woman who plays Django's mother is a scene stealer every time she appears. Director Étienne Comar has done both the film and music worlds a great service with this remarkable picture.
PS: By no means to be confused with Q. Tarantino's comic book entitled "Django Unchained" under penalty of death!
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