Get ready, guitar fans. Django, a new film about gypsy jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt, is headed your way. The film, which stars Reda Kateb as Reinhardt, plus Cécile de France, Beata Palya and BimBam Merstein, opens January 5 in New York and January 19 in Los Angeles.
It was directed and written by Étienne Comar and adapted from Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko. All the music in the film is performed by the Rosenberg Trio.
The film focuses on the guitarist in 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Paris. At that point, Reinhardt was at the pinnacle of his art; the brilliant and carefree guitarist played to standing-room-only crowds in the city’s best venues. Meanwhile, his gypsy brethren were being persecuted throughout Europe. His life took a turn for the worse when the Nazi propaganda machine decided to send him on a German tour.
"For a long time, I wanted to paint the portrait of a musician at grips with the torments of existence," Comar says. "When I was about 40, I plunged back into music by participating in a rock band with some friends, and what an experience! I loved it. I had forgotten how easily you can isolate yourself from the outside world when you’re playing music. All of us were at rather complicated times in our lives, and we got ourselves out of those complications by having fun playing music together. The time and space of musical creation is a drug that literally grabs hold of you.
"And then I thought of a discussion I had as a teenager with my father, who was a great admirer of Django. While he was a young man during the war, he listened to music and forgot about the German occupation [for] as long as a record, or the dance, lasted. And then there was my young nephew, who was learning guitar and began playing numbers by Django like crazy. I figured that trans-generational music like that, with its charm and immediate pleasure, possesses something bewitching, vital and salutary. All of those were reasons that made me want to plunge into the life of Django Reinhardt."
It turns out Reda Kateb, who had some experience with the guitar before shooting the film, was fine with merely "pretending" to play like Reinhardt while other guitarists provided the actual music.
"I played gnawa percussion, a kind of big metal castanets and the guembri, a traditional three-string instrument, a kind of traditional bass," Kateb says. "So I had already been messing around on strings, but without ever having worked at it as seriously as I did for this film, which was a kind of prolongation of my development as an amateur musician.
"So I took some guitar classes with a very good professor, a good pedagogue, who began with some easier pieces, like some of Bob Dylan’s stuff. When I worked on other films, I would keep my guitar in my dressing room and practice. Django was always with me. But even with 20 years of preparation, I would never have been able to play like him.
"It was the great guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg who recorded the numbers in the movie. Christophe Lartilleux stood in for me during closeups on Django’s hands. My job was to pretend, and at the same time to feel those pieces inside of me. I had played and listened to them so much, that I knew when the melody went up or down, and all the breaks...I interiorized the role with my fingers and ears more than with my head!"
Be sure to watch the film's official trailer above. For more information about the film, including screening dates and more, visit django-film.com.