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Django review [Berlinale]: Dir. Etienne Comar (2017)

by Paul Heath

Django review [Berlinale 2017]: Accomplished producer Etienne Comar makes his feature directing debut with the story of Reinhardt in 1943 Nazi occupied France.

Django review by Paul Heath, Berlin Film Festival 2017.

Django review

Django review

Invited to open this year’s Berlin Film Festival is Etienne Comar’s biopic of guitarist Django Reinhardt (Reda Kateb), an epic look into his flight from France.

Django is largely set in 1940s German occupied France where Django plays to packed Parisian audiences every night. While most of his fellow Romany are being persecuted and send on to concentration camps, Django believes that he is safe due to his undeniable musical talent. However, doubt starts to enter his mind when he is invited to travel to Germany to embark on a tour to showcase his string skills and entertain the Nazi regime to help alleviate the influence of the so called ‘negro music’ coming over from the USA.

Django review

After getting wind of their plans, Django instantly refuses the invitation and instead flees Paris, heading for a small village close to the Swiss border with the intention of crossing it with his family, including his pregnant wife and elderly mother. Those plans are however significantly halted after the regime eventually catches up with him…

Veteran producer Comar’s directorial debut, an adaptation from the novel by Alexis Salakto, is ambitious, obviously well-intended and intricate in terms of detail, but unfortunately largely fails to absorb. While there are some truly wonderful facet of the film, notably Kateb’s very watchable portrayal of the title character, and the film’s very well-choreographed musical parts, the picture’s plodding nature and lack of emotional engagement unfortunately limit its lasting appeal.

Certainly it all looks good, with Christophe Beaucarne’s camera perfectly contrasting the more intimate ‘live’ musical performances, captured with sweeping, lingering shots, to the large open vistas of the landscape of rural France during the Nazi occupation.

Django review

Most of the enjoyment of Django comes from those aforementioned musical segments, of which there are many. Kateb’s performances is near-perfect, the actor effortlessly mimicking the finger play of his subject. He is joined by an excellent supporting cast; Cécile De France‘s Louise de Klerk particularly worthy of mention.

It is certainly an interesting choice to open this year’s Berlinale, as with that comes an aura of anticipation, but Django is far from a misfire and even resonates with very current events of the modern day. Some will baulk at its slow-burning nature and its slightly off pacing in places, but there’s definitely a lot to like about it as Comar certainly captures the essence and musical genius of one of European jazz’s legendary pioneers – if nothing else.

Django review by Paul Heath at the Berlin Film Festival, 2017.

Django plays in-competition at the Berlinale, 2017.

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