Django un­chained

Kaleem Aftab speaks to the star and direc­tor of the new big-screen win­dow into the event­ful life of Django Rein­hardt, the first and most sig­nif­i­cant jazz artist to emerge from Europe

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

For years, French direc­tor Eti­enne Co­mar has wanted to make Django, a film about the mu­si­cian Django Rein­hardt.

The first-time direc­tor’s quest is un­der­stand­able: Rein­hardt, a Bel­gium-born French jazz gui­tarist of Ro­mani de­scent, lived a life ripe for the big screen.

Of­ten cited as one of the most im­por­tant mu­si­cians of the 20th cen­tury, Rein­hardt’s most pop­u­lar com­po­si­tions in­clude Mi­nor Swing, Daphne and Belleville.

Rein­hardt, who died in 1953 at the age of 42, was the first and most sig­nif­i­cant jazz artist to emerge in Europe. He’s cred­ited with cre­at­ing a new style of gui­tar play­ing dubbed the “hot jazz gui­tar” – a fact that’s even more remarkable con­sid­er­ing he dis­abled two fin­gers in a fire as an 18-year-old.

Rein­hardt is best known for the jazz swing mu­sic he cre­ated in the 1930s, when he emerged along­side vi­o­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pelli.

They formed the Quin­tette du Hot Club de France in 1934, to­day con­sid­ered one of the most in­no­va­tive bands in the his­tory of recorded jazz.

But the film is not fo­cused solely on the glory days, Co­mar says. In­stead, it ex­plores a less­doc­u­mented two- year pe­riod dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

“I didn’t want to make a biopic,” Co­mar says. “I fo­cused on the war pe­riod given that it fit with the story that I wanted to tell: the ca­pac­ity of mu­si­cians to re­main in their own world in a very dif­fi­cult mo­ment in his­tory, to the point of not be­ing fully aware of what was hap­pen­ing around them.”

By choos­ing this pe­riod, Co­mar – who pro­duced award-win­ning 2014 film Tim­buktu – found that he was able to speak about is­sues that oc­cupy our minds to­day: refugees, free­dom of move­ment, the sta­tus of artists and the deci- sion about whether or not to per­form to au­di­ences that you don’t agree with.

Rein­hardt isn’t a hero, Co­mar says, but through his mu­sic, he was able to re­sist and show his own be­liefs: “I think that is very beau­ti­ful when artists re­spond to the world around them through their ac­tual work and not nec­es­sar­ily by mak­ing grand state­ments,” Co­mar says.

Play­ing the ti­tle role is FrenchAl­ge­rian actor Reda Kateb. The grand­nephew of late Al­ge­rian writer Kateb Yacine, the actor is best known for his roles in 2009’s A Prophet and 2014’s Far From Men and Lost River.

“Art and mu­sic do not al­ways make peo­ple into ac­tivists, but they do change the world and they change the way we look at the world and how we lis­ten to the world and peo­ple,” Kateb says. “This film talks about an artist who opens his eyes, and the con­cert at the end is en­tirely ded­i­cated to the Roma peo­ple. He moves away from be­ing a rather ego­is­tic char­ac­ter to in the end giv­ing some­thing to oth­ers.”

Kateb says that mu­sic can be a dou­ble-edged sword as a way of protest.

“Mu­sic can blind you,” he ex­plains. “The philoso­pher Frantz Fanon, who wrote about coloni­sa­tion, talked about the trance as some­thing that can stop peo­ple re­volt­ing. Be­cause when calmed by the mu­sic and put into a kind of trance, the peo­ple would just grit their teeth and bear any sit­u­a­tion.” Ac­claimed Dutch jazz band the Rosen­berg Trio recorded the mu­sic for the film. Such i s the inf lu­ence of Rein­hardt on their mu­sic that in 2010 they re­leased the DVD I think that is very beau­ti­ful when artists re­spond to the world around them through their ac­tual work and not nec­es­sar­ily by mak­ing grand state­ments Eti­enne Co­mar direc­tor, Django Djan­gol­o­gists, mu­si­cian.

They recorded the mu­sic for the film be­fore film­ing be­gan, and dur­ing pro­duc­tion, the mu­si­cians were on set and per­formed with Kateb.

An­other inf lu­en­tial artist tapped for the project was the Aus­tralian multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist War­ren El­lis from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

The musical au­then­tic­ity can also be seen in how he recre­ated Rein­hardt’s re­quiem for the film.

With only a few bars avail­able of Rein­hardt’s un­fin­ished re­quiem, El­lis was drafted to fill in the miss­ing parts with or­gan, cho­rus and strings.

“I met War­ren El­lis, who has a back­ground in rock mu­sic,” Co­mar says.

“He’s not the kind of mu­si­cian who would be nat­u­rally in­clined a tribute to the to com­pose for a sym­phony or­ches­tra, and in that re­spect he’s a bit like Django at the time when he was cross­ing over from jazz. The words are in Ro­mani; it’s a bit of a ‘ weepy’ song, be­cause Django was a devo­tee of sa­cred mu­sic.”

Yet many fic­tional el­e­ments do also ex­ist in the film that is based largely on the 2013 novel Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko.

French ac­tress and The Young Pope star Cé­cile de France ben­e­fited from the ap­proach, hav­ing been cast in the sym­bol­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant role as re­sis­tance fighter Louise de Klerk.

“She is a fem­i­nist be­fore the days of fem­i­nism,” De France says. “She rep­re­sents eman­ci­pa­tion of the women in the 1930s.”

opens to­mor­row

Roger Ar­pa­jou

Reda Kateb as Django Rein­hardt in Eti­enne Co­mar’s movie Django, set dur­ing a less-doc­u­mented two-year pe­riod of his life dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

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