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Reporting from Berlin on the 68th edition February 15 -25, 2018
Our team of festival ambassadors and reporters bring you the dailies from the Berlin Film Festival and European Film Market and keep an eye on past editions archives. WATCH OUR VIDEO COVERAGE TRAILERS INTERVIEWS AND AMBIANCE

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Django A modern musical genius finally gets his celluloid due!

Geda Ketab uncanny as Django Reinhardt



By Alex Deleon <>

In the thirties forties and early fifties American jazz took Europe, especially France, by storm, and one of its foremost exponents was the legendary Belgian born Gypsy three fingered Hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. 

A definitive film portrait of this remarkable modern day musical genius has been a long time coming but finally here it is in a remarkable film production with a remarkable Django portrayal by French Algerian actor Geda Kateb. (another possible transcription of his Arabic name would be Geza). 

To followers of classical jazz the single name Django is enough to define this great French musician just as "Bird" defines Charlie Parker, and yet, although he was highly admired within the profession by many of the big name black American jazz artists, because he is mainly associated with the European jazz scene, Django Reinhardt  is still not very well known to the general western public and has until now occupied a commoisseurs special corner in jazz history. This picture may change things. 


Director Ètienne Comar has chosen to focus on a narrow segment of the famed musician's life and career, the few years under German occupation when his life was threatened because Hitler's genocide policies extended to Gypsies as well as Jews -- people to be eradicated. However, Django's musical skills were so admired even in Germany that, for a time, he came under the protection of a German officer who was also a great admirer of his. This officer hoped to curry favor with higher Nazi echelons by arranging a tour of Germany for Django and his Hot Jazz quintet.

A higher diehard racist Nazi officer lays down conditions which would remove all "primitive" Afro elements from the music including the Blues basis, or exciting rhythms and foot stamping, so as to  keep staid German audiences from going into a frenzy of musical excitement.

Such condition are of course incompatible with the music and inacceptable to Django. In a climactic concert where Django under prison guard is forced to play with his group for a bunch of German bigwigs at a villa next to the Swiss border where Dhango and his mother hope to cross over to safety, his unbridled hot jazz ("le hot" in French) does indeed excite the Germans to near frenzy and Django is able to escape in the ensuing chaos. 

Throughout the picture scenes of persecution of Gypsies alternate with extremely well staged musical gigs with the camera showing Djangos mastery of the guitar in closeup string fingering detail despite his crippled right hand.

Some viewers have complained that the non-musical sections were too long and drawn out, or that Django's failure to see the anti-gypsy writing on the wall in the first half of the movie was unrealistic, but I was personally so swept up in the music that any narrative weaknesses did not bother me at all. During the first half Django is convinced that "the Germans love me" and claims that he is just a musician with no interest in politics, so he has nothing to worry about -- until it is nearly too late. 

Above all the power of the picture is in actor Geda Ketab's total disappearance into the skin of Reinhardt right down to the way he trims and combs his Clark Gable pencil thin moustache, I for one was nearly convinced I was seeing Django live, and if the writers took some liberties with the historical facts, tant pis!

Director Étienne Comar admitted that the tricky extra-marital love story involving Belgian actress Cécile de France was fictional but stated that this was a drama based on fact, not a documentary. His main interest was to present the music and musicianship of an authentic modern musical genius in the context if a gripping story

I don't think any Django fans will be bothered by such artistic license. The music is the thing whereby we shall know the mind and soul of the King of European jazz. About time, and that was enough for me. The question of the persecution of the Gypsies in WWII was also a topic that has received little if any treatment in major films to date.

Django was a world premier at Berlin and a most appropriate opening film -- not be confused, by any stretch of the imagination with the 2012 celluloid comic book "Django Unchained" by Quentin Tarantino. Heaven forbid!


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About Berlin

Chatelin Bruno

Berlin 2016: The dailies from the Berlin Film Festival brought to you by our team of festival ambassadors. Vanessa McMahon, Alex Deleon, Laurie Gordon, Ole Schulz Lia Fietz, Aida Amasuno Martin, Martin Petrov and Bruno Chatelin...
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October 30, 2015 Deadline for film entries for the festival (feature length films)
November 17, 2015 Deadline for film entries for the festival (short films)
January 6, 2016 Application deadline for accreditations
February 2, 2016 Programme Press Conference at the "Federal Press and Information Office"; access with invitation only
February 11, 2016 Opening Ceremony of the
66th Berlin International Film Festival
February 11-19, 2016 European Film Market
February 13-18, 2016 Berlinale Talents
February 14-16, 2016 Berlinale Co-Production Market
February 20, 2016 Closing & Award Ceremony of the
66th Berlin International Film Festival
February 21, 2016 Berlinale Publikumstag




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