Bullets may sound, but the music keeps playing. It’s a trope we’ve heard often in modern day music.
Let the Music Play (Shannon, 1983)
The Beat Goes On (Sonny & Cher, 1967)
The Show Must Go On (Queen, 1991)
Indeed, the opening sequence of Etienne Comar’s Django brings this idea to life. If we were to say the plot had an underlying message, it might hinge on this. Life can be miserable, but the show must go on and music is one of those things…it just lives on no matter the hardships. Other films have already touched on this idea. The Red Violin (Francois Girard, 1998) for example, demonstrates the interpersonal bonds of characters affected by the instrument. The symbol of the beaten up violin standing the test of time, is that life is cyclical. It continues. It may be coerced into momentary silence, but will eventually reappear. Perhaps the most symbolic moment in Django is when our hero breaks his trusty guitar in order to bury it – and himself – under a pile of snow to hide from German pursuers. Django Reinhardt went everywhere with his guitar. For him to make this ultimate sacrifice meant he felt trapped enough to do so in order to preserve his life. Yet the music resurfaces rather quickly in an even more majestic form as we watch Reinhardt conducting his organ requiem. Life tried to defeat music, but music won.
Comar’s directorial debut presents us with a pseudo bio-pic. Many of the events and characters are based on the real life of jazz musician, Django Reinhardt during the 1943 occupation in France. However, the film is in fact a take on the 2013 fiction novel by Alexis Salatko. The most noted fictionalized element is Django’s apparent mistress. Cecile de France’s character is not quite fleshed out enough for us to feel any particular attachment to her. Whether she is ally or enemy is never elaborated. The nuance of her relationship with Django is likewise never expanded upon. This creates a disposable character. For the most part she is filler, and thus a bit of an indulgence on the part of the director. Otherwise, Reda Kateb gives a convincing performance in the title role. The actor even learned guitar for a year to prepare for his part.
Kateb might be categorized as a “character actor”, with the understanding that though he is not Hollywood-handsome, there is something strangely enchanting about his slight strabismus (an eye condition often referred to as ‘wall-eyed’ or ‘cock-eyed’) and his gummy smile. Throughout, there are jokes about his character’s mustache. A comparison to a catfish here, an insult there that he resembles Hitler at a moment in history where the Nazis were closing in on Europe. Kateb’s Django is stubborn and steadfast, refusing to do what the resistance tries to force him to do. If the script were more polished, this could have been much more convincing. Instead, Django’s pigheaded nature comes across rather unremarkably. Despite such downfalls, Django is overall enjoyable as a story where good ultimately vanquishes evil. The musical scenes alternate between crawling long shots and instrument closeups. In addition, there are a few silly moments and family bonding to lighten a story that might have otherwise become heartbreaking and difficult to watch due to the Nazi and war context.
*** for Montrealers, Django will be presented in French with English subtitles (in select theatres) starting July 7th. Check your local listings.