Director: Etienne Comar
Written by: Etienne Comar, Alexis Slako, adapted from Alexis Salatko’s novel “Folles de Django”
Cast: Reda Kateb, Cécile de France, Bea Palya, Bimbam Merstein, Gabriel Mireté, Vincent Frade, Johnny Montreuil
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/30/17
Opens: January 5, 2018
Overlooked by most of the world, which believe that only Jews as a group were humiliated and murdered before and during the war, is the fact that the gypsies suffered a similar fate. Gypsies, or Romani, were labeled “nomads” by the German officers occupying France, and were used by them to entertain the officers and the grunts as well, though the skill of the gypsies was not enough to save their lives. Using a melodramatic plot and taking liberties with the true story of Django Reinhardt, the greatest of the gypsy magicians, Etienne Comar concentrates on a few months of Django’s life, graced with an actor who looks like the master himself. Though some of the action is kitsch—for example all the German officers are stock figures, though the officers talk educated French—“Django” is a wonderfully entertaining movie which shows us German treatment of the musicians—and perhaps not so kitsch is the concept that Hitler and his thugs really did ban jazz, and that included the treatment given to the musical form developed by Django.
Django himself (Reda Kateb) appears to treat the dangers around him indifference, claiming that he is a Belgian and therefore this is not his war. But tell that to the enemy. He is treated with relative kid gloves—not that they talked to him politely even though they wanted him and his band to play for soldiers doing R&R. In fact when the officers are planning the program of music, they insist that there be “no more than 5% syncopation, no tapping on the ground, and everything restrained.” Your music may be fine with the French, but not with us, is the idea, though watching Django as he listens to the commands, we see that he is never subservient and never jiving and shucking.
Django’s former girlfriend Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France) plays up to the Germans, dancing with them, chatting at the table. But she is in fact a double agent, valuable to the plan for the band to escape over the guarded French border to Switzerland. When Django is commanded to travel to Germany perhaps even to play for Hitler, he seems flattered, even ready to do this, and in fact his manager (Patrick Mille) urges him to go through with the plan.
If this movie were opened in 2017, it might have succeeded having the best music you’d have heard this year. Since it will theatrically open on January 5, 2018, “Django” will have the music for all succeeding films to emulate, the gold standard for informal performance.
Not much is really on hand to convince us that 600,000 gypsies would end up in concentration camps, some sterilized, though the opening scene finds Django and his group jamming in the forest, but the occupying forces were not entranced enough by the performance, and two of the gypsies are shot. Scenes in the dining hall could pass as something out of “Casablanca,” as though having a night on the town in the early 1940s were a template.
Unrated. 115 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+