Jazz Film Review: "Django"

Sep 25, 2017

SIFF  presents its mini-festival "French Cinema Now" September 28-October 5th.  The opening film on September 28th is "Django." No, definitely not the one with cowboy hats and six-shooters. 

This beautifully constructed French film directed by Etienne Comar is about the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

The docudrama condenses the events surrounding Reinhardt's attempts to leave Nazi-occupied France and get his family safely to Switzerland.  

Reluctant at first to leave Paris, where he is adored by the Germans as well as the French, Django is eventually convinced that the Nazi regime intends to decimate the Roma (Gypsy) population.  His refusal to take his band on a performance tour of Germany puts him in danger, and then in league with members of the French Resistance.

Django film poster
Credit UniFrance

Reda Kateb is exceptional in his portrayal of Django Reinhardt, ringing true right down to the unusual guitar technique Reinhardt used to accommodate his hand that was disfigured in a fire.

Director Etienne Comar based the film on a fictionalized biography, Folles de Django​ by Alexis Salatko.  He combined it with background from Reinhardt's grandson David, who  provided facts about the family's time in Paris and in Tholon-les-Bains, the departure point for Switzerland.  

Naturally, the music is the focus of the film, as it was for Django his entire life.  Original music from Warren Ellis augments the lovingly interpreted Reinhardt compositions performed by the Rosenberg Trio.

From the opening scenes of a singer in the forest and the standing-room-only concert in Paris, to the only performance of  "Requiem for Gypsy Brothers," a piece he wrote for strings, pipe organ and choir, this movie breathes the artistry of Django Reinhardt.

"Django" plays at SIFF Cinema Uptown Thursday, September 28th at 6:30 pm.  Enjoy music from the Pearl Django Trio before the film starting at 5:45 pm, and afterwards make your way to the Opening Night Party at the Bastille Café and Bar at 9 pm.

Robin Lloyd hosts Mid Day Jazz and Jazz Caliente on KNKX-FM.  She is a member of the Jazz Education Network, and currently serves on the board of the Jazz Journalists Association.