Greetings again from the darkness. Don’t mistake this for either the Franco Nero (1966) or Jamie Foxx (2012) movie. This latest from writer/director Etienne Comar centers on Django Reinhardt, one of the most talented and influential musicians of the twentieth century. Based on the novel “Folles de Django” by Alexis Salatko, the story follows the challenges of his escape from German-occupied France.
He is already a renowned (and enigmatic) performer when the film kicks off in 1943 Ardennes, as Django and his band are being contracted by the Nazis to tour and entertain the troops. Of course, he refuses to sign the contract and tour under their terms with limit the style of music he can play. Because of this, Django and his family must flee and disappear underground, while they plan an escape to Switzerland.
His musical influence proliferated the area, and his influence and respect is clear at each step of his travels. In fact, it’s the musical pieces and segments that really stand out here. Reda Kateb (A PROPHET, 2009) gives a terrific and expressive performance as Django, but the musical portions are so outstanding, that we find ourselves not as engaged in the personal saga of escape as we should. Clearly, the war and Nazis are a threat, and when Django says “I’m a musician. It’s what I do”, that serves as his admission that he takes an apolitical stance and does not envision himself as a hero to the people.
As a driving force behind European jazz, and being such an influence on so many guitar players, Django’s legacy is something other than as a war icon. The film certainly could have benefited from more attention to either how his music gained popularity, or what drove him to avoid any political notoriety until it was too late for many of his fellow Gypsies. Admittedly, his escape was crucial and led to his 1945 score, “Requiem for Gypsy Brothers”, of which his conducting leads to the most emotional moment of the film.
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