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Movie Reiew: Django Unchained

Of the delicious touch,Quentin Tarantino remains the master.

Written by Shalini Langer | Mumbai |
March 22, 2013 6:45:36 pm

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Christoph Waltz,Jamie Foxx,Leonardo DiCaprio,Kerry Washington,Samuel L Jackson

The Indian Express rating: **1/2

OF THE delicious touch,Quentin Tarantino remains the master. He also makes no effort to hide own lip-smacking delight relishing it. It’s great if you are along for the ride,but pity if you aren’t,for this part-Spaghetti western,part-revenge bloodlust,part-blaxploitation,distinctly unhistorical and classically allegorical Tarantino product makes no concessions for those not in on the joke — and you may find yourself there more than you wish,or expect in Django Unchained.

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An erudite German (Waltz),with distinguished Old World accent,manners and wherewithal,in uncouth New World’s bad bad west. That erudite German turned dentist turned bounty hunter finding himself giving a Black (Foxx) his freedom — it is well before Hitler,but not much after Tarantino cast the same Waltz as the unforgettable Jew hunter in Inglourious Basterds. That Black being called Django,the same as the eponymous character in a 1966 Western hit that would spin many a Django there on. This film being called Django Unchained — more unshackled,unrestrained,unbound by law,and fighting for his way of life,than the Djangos preceding it. Django’s wife “Broomhilda von Schaft” (Washington) being named,ridiculous as that name is,for a German fairy tale princess. Her torturer Calvin Candie running a plantation called Candie-land. One of his much-exploited slaves being called D’Artagnan (Alexandre Dumas was black,as the film helpfully tells us). The film’s glorious soundtrack breaking into rap as Django finally comes into his own.

All of the above smack of that Tarantino touch — asking us to notice,draw inferences,understand,link. Which is fine,by the way,but the problem with Django Unchained is that behind that mock seriousness is an attempt to be taken seriously,that is ultimately not so serious. In his inability to resist referencing various genres and hold back flourish or panache,and in the inevitable collapse into unrelenting blood flow,Tarantino appears not to care too deeply about anything even as he is asking us to do so,deeply.

The mood of the two halves of the film is entirely different. We meet Django back first,in all its whiplashed cruelty,before he is “rescued” in an obvious fairy tale-esque scene by Dr King Schultz (Waltz). When Django walks off,flipping away the tattered blanket that covers him,and climbs atop a horse,it’s as glorious an entrance as a hero can wish for. As Schultz reveals his profession of a bounty hunter and walks into towns looking for criminals living under aliases,Django’s “Blackness” is a by-the-way. Only to be commented upon by those astonished to see “a nigger upon a horse”.

Tarantino is in complete control here,down to when they walk to a plantation where Schultz (Waltz almost exactly reprising his Inglourious performance) is hunting for three dreaded criminal brothers whom Django can recognise (one of those ostensible reasons for bringing them together). Django rides in here in a bright blue costume,after being allowed to choose a dress of his choice for the first time. It’s a defiant assault — in all senses of the word.

The second half takes Schultz and Django to Candie-land,where Broomhilda is a “comfort slave”. Among other things,Candie (a devilishly over-the-top,red-eyed,moustache-twirling DiCaprio) uses his slaves in human cock fights to death called “Mandingo” (there is no historical basis for this). It’s a cruel existence,and defiance can mean being torn apart by dogs. For company,Candie has a widowed sister (a white pansy,with whom he appears inappropriately intimate) and an own Uncle Tom-like Black housekeeper called Stephen (Jackson). Stephen’s loyalty lies to Candie more than his fellow Blacks,which makes him much hated among the others (his deceit is even more obvious later).

In fact,Blacks are in the uneasy position in this film of being passive onlookers to the torture,if not complicit in it. Candie does raise that question — “Why don’t they kill us all?” — but Tarantino lets that hang on a note of Blacks’ brains making them implicitly servile by nature. In most Tarantino films,that could be one subject matter of a very pointed and very verbiose debate,with him even showing the hollow centre of it,but here he chickens out. For most parts,as Schultz and Candie face off,Django watches perpetually perplexed,and then follows meekly.

Yes,the White Negro,as Tarantino has been called and must love being referred to as,isn’t fighting for justice for Blacks here. However,in showing us the horrors of the time in typically graphic detail,what he is doing exactly then?

It’s possible the Ku Klux Klan in their hooded masks with slit eyeholes were not able to properly see through them; it’s possible they squabbled over it. However,the extended joke on it can only belong to a much-lesser venture,maybe a skit on Saturday Night Live. Evidently,the masks never came in the KKK’s way. And Tarantino must know that.

shalini.langer@expressindia.com

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