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Adam Lee Davies

@exrenthell

Django – first look review

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

Tags: Berlin Film Festival

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