The return of Django, the review of the first two episodes

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Originally it was Sergio Corbucci’s film, one of the cult titles of the so-called “spaghetti-western”, which revisited the epic of the origin of the American nation by adding to the model of John Ford and John Wayne a surplus of ruthlessness and amorality that served to breathe new life into an otherwise declining film genre.

In particular, the Django by Corbucci, compared to Sergio Leone’s films, was characterized by an extreme use of violence, with peaks of brutal sadism. The most exemplary case is the scene in which the ear of one of the protagonists is cut off: Quentin Tarantino will remember it and faithfully replicated it in his debut feature film, Hyenas. But that’s not all, Corbucci and his collaborators (among whom stand out the assistant director Ruggero Deodato author of the so-called “cannibal-movies”; the screenwriter Fernando Di Leo, later author of the more cultured “poliziotteschi”; and the director of photography, Enzo Barboni , later director of the “sganassoni-westerns” by Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, with the stage name EB Clucher) managed to hit the mark of the international collective imagination, causing a germination of remakes and apocryphal sequels especially German, anime and manga Japanese, horror comics, parodies of Franco and Ciccio and quotes from the Star Wars saga. Not to mention Tarantino’s reinterpretation, which pays homage to that cult right from the title: Django Unchained.

From these echoes and refractions, the original series that is about to arrive on our channels takes its cues, after having passed in October at the Rome Film Fest. A large-scale international production that simultaneously involves Sky Italia and CANAL+, Cattleya and Atlantique Productions (there are also Sky Studios and STUDIOCANAL, if you want to be picky). The series will be visible on air but also in streaming on NOW in Italy, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and Austria and on CANAL+ in France, Poland, Switzerland and Africa (and via M7 in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic).

We insist on these seemingly irrelevant details, to immediately clarify that the real trump card of Django it is its cosmopolitan soul, which is also reflected in the technical and artistic cast. The director and artistic director of the project is Francesca Comencini, director Luigi’s third child, who has recently distinguished herself in the direction of some episodes of the series Gomorrah. Here he has staged the family feelings giving it an aspect that is both epic and gloomy, the same that permeates the series we are dealing with. In addition, the Roman director has relied on certain genre reminiscences of hers that refer to one of Robert Altman’s most neglected masterpieces such as The cronieswhich is originally called McCabe & Mrs Miller. At his side, in the control room, we find the Englishman David Evans who comes from the British series of Downton Abbey; and Enrico Maria Artale, director of some episodes of the “peplum” series, Romulus.

However, there is also a significant group of Italian actors, starting with Franco Nero, who appears here in an inevitable cameo. Then there is Vinicio Marchioni, in the role of a captain in the Confederate army, who meets Django in flashbacks during the war; Thomas Trabacchi in that of a Sicilian immigrant who belongs to the first migratory flows towards the Americas; finally, Manuel Agnelli who plays a bizarre dandy in search of fortune. However, it seems that on the set it was also necessary to master a little Romanian, it is in fact between the Danube and Bucharest that the sets of Paki Meduri were built, another excellence of our cinema who declared that he was inspired by Invisible cities by Italo Calvino to build the city of New Babylon, the fulcrum of these locations. It is a city founded by an African American ex-slave (John Ellis) and a young white woman (Sarah Wright), as a utopian community along the lines of Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun, in which inclusion triumphs and where there is no discrimination based on gender, race and creed. In fact, all sorts of diversity find here the right of citizenship: blacks, never subordinate women and even a transgender. But also “thieves, whores and murderers” as one of the sons of the boss thunders at one point. This happens programmatically, according to the testimony of Comencini herself who explains how the series is based on an authentic paradox: to tell the crisis of virility (the end of the patriarchy) using the canons of the cinematographic genre which more than any other has contributed to building it. This is why, while keeping faith with the reference model, for this reboot of the third millennium Comencini & Co. start again from the subject of Corbucci, however introducing significant thematic elements linked to the contemporary.

Julian Wright, known as Django, is once again a cynical and violent anti-hero who comes from the distant past in a desperate search for redemption for an unforgivable fault. A man fleeing from himself who no longer believes in anything, lost in a nihilistic escape that can only be compensated for by finding a lost daughter. However, a series of equally strong co-protagonists appear alongside him, who, while acting on the usual western scenarios, reveal an absolutely contemporary identity: they are traversed by profound contradictions and chiaroscuro vulnerabilities. The reason is explained very well by one of the authors of the show, Maddalena Ravagli (the others are Leonardo Fasoli and Max Hurwitz, all of whom have proven merits in the field of seriality). Paraphrasing a famous aphorism by Mao Tse-Tung, “the revolution is not a gala dinner” (which also appeared in the exergue of down the head by Sergio Leone, speaking of spaghetti westerns), Ravagli argues that the phrase “inclusion is not a gala dinner” is perfectly suited to this film.

For example, one of the film’s antagonists, John Ellis, is indeed the leader of a city of acceptance and tolerance, but according to some he is also a bloodthirsty despot; in short, he is the complete opposite of a hagiographic holy card, he is an intolerant and violent man. It is as if the authors were telling us that within every utopian narrative there are intrinsic contradictions, if it is true that all revolutions have been followed by thermidor, the restoration, terror, and personality cults.

Even Elizabeth is no less terrible: intolerant and violent like her nemesis, she appears on stage brutally killing a prostitute and immediately after carrying out a slaughter inside a gambling den/brothel to the tune of Edit Piaf’s “La foule”. It is what she defines: “spreading the word of God on earth”. She is a sort of bigoted and possessed preacher who fights against vice, sin and perdition and dominates Elmdale, city of redemption and sort of antithesis of New Babylon. Here too certain historical reminiscences seem to echo. Was it not in the name of God that the Spanish conquistadors colonized the Americas by exporting the Christian faith by hook or by crook?

In short, all the violence in the world is summarized here, in a not too metaphorical way. The conquest of the West itself, as the history of cinema and history tout court teaches us, is paved with corpses; and, despite the somewhat mystifying rhetoric about cowboys and Indians, the resulting nation was built on two genocides: the trafficking of blacks and the massacre of Native Americans.

In The man who killed Liberty valance, one of the greatest western masterpieces of all time, John Ford explained to us that in the West, “when legend surpasses reality, we write the legend”; the new Djangohowever, in its apocalyptic and wholly contemporary gloom, tells us the reality, without sugaring the pill and without making concessions to anyone.