Berlin film festival gets into swing with biopic Django, about Nazi persecution of gypsy-jazz guitar great Django Reinhardt

Movie about renowned musician kicks off a programme that includes Stanley Tucci’s biopic about Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti and British comedy The Party, set at an MP’s London soiree

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 5:45pm

The Berlin film festival opens on Thursday with the world premiere of Django, a biopic about Gypsy-jazz great Django Reinhardt focused on the little-known story of his family’s persecution by the Nazis.

The French production is one of 18 movies vying for the coveted Golden Bear, which will be awarded February 18 by a jury led by Hollywood director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Elle).

Django marks the directorial debut of Etienne Comar, a screenwriter and producer behind hits such as Of Gods and Men and My King and co-producer of the award-winning film about radical Islam, Timbuktu.

A virtuoso guitarist and composer who shot to global renown with his delicate melodies, Reinhardt was a member of the Sinti minority and was forced to flee German-occupied Paris in 1943.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick called the movie a “poignant tale of survival”.

“It is also a wonderful story about a man who created his own world... in which the greatness of his music allowed us to forget the circumstances under which it was born,” he said.

The film stars Reda Kateb, who appeared with Viggo Mortensen in the Algeria-set war drama Far From Men.

Comar said that Reinhardt’s tragic aspect comes from being a “character blinded by his music, who doesn’t see the world changing, in which the war sneaks up on him and only then does he finally see what is happening”.

The 11-day Berlinale, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year, will screen nearly 400 movies from 70 countries.

It is the only big festival that opens all its featured movies to the public. Movie buffs camped out overnight on Monday to nab the first tickets as they went on sale.

In keeping with its long post-war tradition, the event will mix art-house cinema from European veterans including Poland’s Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa), Britain’s Sally Potter, Germany’s Volker Schloendorff, previous Golden Bear winner Calin Peter Netzer of Romania and Aki Kaurismaki of Finland with new features from Brazil, South Korea, China and Senegal.

The latest Wolverine instalment of the X-Men superhero franchise Logan starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Richard E. Grant will have its world premiere.

Hollywood actor Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) will unveil his new biopic about Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, Final Portrait starring Australian Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush.

Potter (Orlando), one of four female directors in competition, pulled together a cast including Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall for the comedy The Party set at an MP’s London soiree.

Richard Gere stars with Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Chloe Sevigny in the thriller The Dinner by US director Oren Moverman (the screenwriter behind Love & Mercy and I’m Not There), an adaptation of the Dutch novel by Herman Koch about two families with an awful secret.

While in Berlin, Gere will also meet Angela Merkel to discuss his long-running work on the campaign for Tibetan rights, following talks the German chancellor held last year with George Clooney and his human rights lawyer wife, Amal, about Europe’s refugee influx.

As the most politically minded of the big festivals, stars are expected to use its stage to sound off on global affairs, particularly US President Donald Trump’s disputed travel ban.

Organisers said the Berlinale, which is heavily sponsored by the German government, would send a message of “cultural diversity to fight populist over-simplification”.

“There is nothing that those who owe their power to playing on vague fears and base instincts are more intimidated by than the powers of art: to move people, break taboos and silence, and awaken a desire for a better world,” Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said.

Berlin Film Festival 2016 puts refugee crisis and provocative documentaries in the spotlight

Last year the Golden Bear went to Italian refugee documentary Fire at Sea from a jury led by Meryl Streep. It is nominated for an Academy Award this month.