Django is an unusual name, isn’t it? The only people I knew with that name were characters in westerns–white Django in 1966’s Django and black Django in Django Unchained–or the genetic base for Boba Fett. Yes, I know that one’s actually Jango, but still. Turns out it’s a Romani name, which makes using it for a western hero extra unusual. Why pick that name out of all the ones available? It’s almost like there was some famous person named Django that the filmmakers were referencing, but what are the odds of that?
Very good, as it turns out!
2017’s Django is a biography about jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (Mr. Reda Kateb) during 1943 in Nazi occupied France. As a Romani and a musician at a time where Germany had all but banned jazz, he attempted to take his family and flee to Switzerland. Things don’t go as planned and the Nazis find him and force him to perform for their troops. But with so many restrictions! They were being real Nazis about it! The performance is also used as cover for the French Resistance to take key people across a lake to Switzerland, something Django is rightfully a little upset about since he was not their priority. After the Nazis figure out they got played, Django barely makes it to Switzerland, having to leave behind his mother and pregnant wife. In the end they’re all reunited, but the war has forever changed them.
The film also shows the complex relationship he had with Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France, AKA Marie from Haute Tension). She’s white and blonde enough that the Germans go “easy” on her, but she’s in the unfortunate position of trying to help Django and his family while the Nazis watch her every move. Her ultimate fate is grimly never shown after the Nazis corner her.
So what does all this have to do with a gunslinger? It’s all in the hands. Django suffered extensive burns all over his body when he was 18, and as a result two fingers on his left hand were rendered useless. Instead of giving up on his musical dreams, he trained himself to play guitar with his two working fingers. Remember in 66’s Django when Hugo’s men crushed the hero’s hands, but through sheer grit he was still able to shoot down Jackson? I would imagine European audiences would’ve pick up on the parallels, cause now I can’t unsee them.
Like just about every biography, the truth is a little different. The real life Django spent World War II in Paris, after having been turned away by Swiss border guards. His popularity is potentially what saved him, as the Nazis were especially cruel to the Romani people. Sadly–and not in the scope of the film–he died at age 43 due to a brain hemorrhage and abysmal medical treatment. But his musical legacy lives on, with some pieces of his in media like The Matrix and Bioshock. Oh, and near as I can tell, Louise de Klerk was created solely for the film, so that’s… a choice.
Overall it’s a pretty good movie and a fairly decent biography. A little long and slow at points, but I think the acting made up for it.
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