Monday, June 12, 2017

Some Impressions of Ètienne Comar's Film "Django" by Georg Lankester

Official film poster
The Dutch Django Reinhardt connoisseur, Georg Lankester writes about his impressions of Ètienne Comar's  film "Django" which opened the Berlin International Film Festival this year and had its premiere in The Netherlands on May 3rd.

More than 60 years after the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt died, a film dedicated to his life during the war was launched.

The official première took place during the German film festival “Berlinale” in March of this year, but 2 months later the movie was also introduced to the Dutch audience. In the town of Wageningen, where the official capitulation of the Germans was signed at the end of WW II, the première was scheduled on May 3rd, so prior to the Dutch Memorial Day for the victims of World War II.

I had the privilege to introduce the film for a sold out cinema and described the life of the famous gypsy and his importance for the jazz world. As to the war time I referred to Dr. Schulz-Köhn, the Nazi officer who admired Django’s music and protected him as well as the Hot Club de France organizers in Paris.
Film actor Reda Kateb as Django Reinhardt
A Mixed Story
The Django movie includes a few historical facts with regard to Django’s habits while moreover several exciting band sessions with Django’s fabulous guitar playing can be seen and heard. However, Django’s endeavors to escape to Switzerland as shown in this production are not based on history but fiction.

Producer Etienne Comar on the one hand shows his audience something of the remarkable life style of the guitarist (played by Reda Kateb) and on the other hand brings into focus how the Nazis successively destroy the gypsies, whereas Django was kept out.

A Few Words on Django’s Real War Years
At the outbreak of the war, Django (who then played in England with the quintet) hurried back to Paris. The violin was replaced by a clarinet and his new Hot Club quintet was at once immensely popular. In those first war years, the formation still did some travelling and went e.g. to Belgium where recordings were made in small groups and with orchestras.
Django’s war-time Quintet with lady singer Josette Daydé, c.1941  (photo: Georg Lankester collection)
Unlike most of the people then, Django had a good life. As a celebrity he had lots of engagements and plenty of money. His latest composition, “Nuages” was such a hit that one could hear people singing this melody all over Paris. However, the influence of the German occupation became more and more noticeable and because of this ongoing threat the guitarist tried three times to escape to Switzerland, which however failed.

Back to The Film
It is certainly not my intention to give away the story. Here in a few lines some short impressions: The first part is rather spectacular with Django and his quintet in full action. The guitarist is then invited to play in Germany, but wants to withdraw from this. After more and more pressure – frightened - he and his family leave Paris. The gypsies settle near Thonon, preparing plans to escape and still occasionally make music together. Again there is pressure to perform for the local Germans, which happens with a dramatic ending. Django survives, and can be seen after the war bringing homage to all gypsy victims.

The Film Music
Finally something that people should know about the music in this film: the guitar solos (recorded in the studio) are played by Stochelo Rosenberg who deserves great compliments. He absolutely puts himself in Django’s shoes!
Stochelo Rosenberg
As to actor Reda Kateb, it took him abt. one year to show the left hand technique as Django performed when playing solos with his crippled hand. 
Reda Kateb emulating Django's playing technique
It is all by all certainly an interesting, special war film on Django’s life and that of the French gypsies. One can enjoy some hot quintet sessions which do remind us of Django’s unequalled guitar playing. Recommended, if you like a few moments of nostalgia.
The soundtrack CD of the film
The “Django” film is available for streaming at your computer, more info to be found here. - The original soundtrack of the film may be purchased here.

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