A nimble-fingered movie biopic of the ace guitar picker who entertained the Nazis opens the 2017 Berlinale.
It’s Paris. 1943. Under German occupation. Fun times, or at least for some. Swing-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt may be of Romani descent – a people not much beloved by Herr Hitler – but his expressive, explosive bebop quintet are wowing the Nazi elite, as well as the well-heeled Frenchies, so he is all but untouchable. But such privilege comes at a price, and when Reinhardt is invited to tour Germany and entertain the Deutsche troops, he discovers a twinge of conscience that is located very near his survival bone. Which way to jump?
Étienne Comar’s wonderful biopic traces Django as he slowly realises that art is a commodity, that no man is an island and circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances. Which all makes Django sound a little bleak. It is, however, a stone delight. Every biopic lives and dies by its lead performer (cf: Val Kilmer in The Doors) and, here gold is uncovered.
Looking every inch the Gallic Warren Oates (just imagine!), Reda Kateb is truly hypnotic as the jazz-handed maestro. He is no more or less than a human person: no huge emotional landslides, no sail-swagging realisations, no Vaseline-lensed moments of movie clarity. Just a man who is forced to grow up a little as a result of history’s cruel eruptions. He may not even know that a change has taken place, but we do.
It’s not all plain sailing. The first half of the film is a mite baggy, and a Rififi/Mission: Impossible caper toward the end stretches credulity a little. But the music – overseen by Nick Cave’s chief Bad Seed, Warren Ellis – is entrancing, the performances nicely contained and the scenes where Django reconnects with his extended gypsy family are not (wholly) given over to bullshit movie romanticism.
Warren Oates would love this film – which is the best review one could give.
Published 12 Feb 2017
Josef Hader’s mid-life meltdown comedy has just enough madcap laughs for it to pass muster.
Cinema dictates that movie dinner dates are supposed to go bad. This Berlinale competition entry carries on that tradition.