Berlinale-Blogger 2017 Resistance Through Music

Django, competition 2017
Berlinale 2017 © Roger Arpajou

Given Berlinale’s previous years’ choices of films that achieved the honour of opening the session, we may remark on the great courage of its administration this year in choosing the French film “Django” by Etienne Comar to open the festival’s 67th session.

After choices that tended, in recent years, to go to films made by well-known directors and actors, thereby increasing the chances of international media attention, Berlinale, in its new session, goes for a director making his debut film, and an actor who is hardly known outside French cinema, namely Reda Kateb who plays the Belgian-born Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whose talent saves him from what the Nazis did to Gypsies in France.

The performance of Reda Kateb and the exceptional musical performance scenes are the two key strengths of this film, which begins with a coherent storyline and an intelligent introduction to the main character, before, as events progress, it loses many of the factors of its excellence.

Django, as we see him at the beginning of the film, is a classic Bohemian artist who does not care about his work and goes fishing at the time of an important ceremony which he is strongly encouraged to attend. Once he is on stage, however, he turns into a music professional who delivers a spectacular performance, to which the director gives its full duration of some seven minutes of pure music that outlines Django’s genius, which is what  protects him from the Nazis, and even makes some of the Nazis attend the show and ask him to go to play in Germany.

The intelligence of the drama in the first part of the film comes from connecting all the decisions of the main character to his music. He is a Gypsy artist who cares little about what is happening around him as long as he is able to perform when he wants and according to the way he prefers. When he dodges a semi-compulsory offer of a concert tour in Germany to be attended by Goebbels himself, we feel that this is not a resistance-driven stance so much as a rejection of the ridiculous fanaticism of the Nazis’ who admire his music but regard his performance as being morally inappropriate, as dancing and foot tapping during play, along with a long list of other ridiculous things, are all prohibited.  This  may not be in line with the traditional form of Nazi violence, but it all seems, for the main character, sufficient grounds for disobedience.

However, the cohesion of the drama fades away when Django has to escape through the woods to the Swiss border, which makes the character lose much of its charm in the second half of the film, and thus the music performance scenes become the biggest, or maybe the only reason for continuing to watch a story that flows quickly towards cliché, becoming merely another story of escape from the Nazis.

The relationship between the Nazis and the Gypsies may be one of the reasons for Berlinale’s interest in the film, and resistance through art may be one of Etienne Comar’s interests in making the film, but Reda Kateb’s genuine performance and the stunning music scenes are the most important things in “Django”, and Berlinale may have had better options for the opening of its 67th session.