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Inglourious Basterds

I have to admit, one of my cinematic guilty pleasures are the films that Quentin Tarantino makes. Not the films that he stars in, I assure you, but the ones he directs. For all the style, excess, and occasional self employment of his limited acting ability, I do dig them.

With that said, then, I have to confess that I found Inglourious Basterds a conflicted Tarantino film, one that played to his previously established strengths of excessive violence, quirky characters, and stylised dialogue, but one which also showed a different Tarantino, one that is restrained, realistic, and at times tragic. The latter occurred whenever he focused on any of the French characters, who are lead by Melanie Laurent's Shosanna, a Jewish girl who after the death of her family, finds herself in France, running a cinema and the object of affection for German war hero, Fredrick Zoller, played by Daniel Bruhl. There, she comes face to face with Colonel Hans Landa, the German commander who is in charge of hunting down and killing Jews in France. Christoph Waltz, who plays the character, is actually the best of some very good performances in the film, and is totally compelling in his portrayal of the highly intelligent, dangerous and charming commander, from the first moment that he steps into the film. Placed against this, however, is the storylines of Aldo Raine's guerilla group of German killing soldiers. Raine is Pitt's character, and he comes complete with a thick accent, the scar from a noose around his neck, and everything else that is excessive that you can think of in a Tarantino film. Raine and his group in the film are involved in a plot to blow up the cinema that Shosanna runs while a German film festival is taking place, killing such German high command figures as Joseph Goebbels and Hitler himself. Of course, things start to go wrong when the group is told to meet Bridget von Hammersmark in a basement bar. It's a terrible place for a meeting, they all say, and indeed it is, but it allows for Tarantino to build a nice, claustrophobic scene.

About half way through the film, I realised that the one figure I could lose from it and not feel as if anything had been lost was Pitt's Raine. He, like the Samuel L. Jackson voice over, and the occasional flaskback for a select few Basterds, felt as if they were unnecessary in the larger film, and a strong editorial hand should have pruned them out in the early script factor. With that removed, I reckon that the film would have been Tarantino's best, and shown an entirely new voice and sensibility for him--and to be fair, as it is, it does show a new voice--one that is building, even, on the inter-contextualised references to other films and film movements established in Kill Bill and to a lesser extent, Death Proof--but rather than one that is successful, I think it shows a voice struggling to emerge.

Anyhow, I did enjoy the film, despite the fact that it has one of my pet hates in American cinema, which is films that deal with Nazi Germany. So strong is my hate for American Nazi films that I almost considered not going to see this film, but since I recognise that this hate of mine stems entirely from the racist and awful films that Steven Spielberg has thrown out and had lauded, I figured I ought to put it aside. It isn't that I think the Holocaust is a fabrication, or that I think these films make it seem worse than it was, but rather because the treatment of them are so often in the same vein as the Nazis portrayed in the Indiana Jones, in which they wear black coats and have maps to various treasures burned into the flesh of their hands. For the most part, Tarantino actually manages to avoid this, however, and that is mostly due to the excellence of Waltz and Bruhl, but whenever Pitt is on screen, you can't help but think of this tendency, and occasionally wait for Harrison Ford to stroll into scene with his whip and hat and a Bible and say, "I don't suppose you know the way to the Holy Grail, do you?"



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Sep. 8th, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
I had to leave Basterds halfway through because my wife had an MS-related headache thing - I saw up to the secret meeting with the actress in the basement cafe. As a result I don't feel I can review the film as such, but from what I saw I by-and-large agree with what you've said above.

It feels like watching three or four films at once, one of which is absolutely gripping (the opening scene is probably the best scene in a movie I've seen this year) and the other three of which are ridiculous, silly and weirdly unengaging.
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
i thought the ending in the cinema was actually the best part, myself, so if you get a chance to rewatch it, i reckon i'd probably say you should.
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:13 am (UTC)
Oh I'll definitely finish it when it comes out on DVD.
Sep. 8th, 2009 06:37 am (UTC)
You definitely need to see the ending to judge the film at all, IMO. The ending, to me, made it clear what he was attempting to do, and as a result made the almost bathetic contrast between the cartoonish Aldo and his Basterds and the more realistic Shosanna storylines seem more explicable.

In short, in large part its a film about propoganda. I think the excess of Aldo's character is deliberate -- he is the counterpart to movie Fredrick. I think the way Aldo reminds you of American cinemas portrayal of Nazis is exactly intended.

I think if he'd had the script the way Ben suggests, it would have been a better film about WW2, but nowhere near as good a film about film, and the film about film is the part that Tarantino is really interested in.
Sep. 8th, 2009 07:44 am (UTC)
you know, that is a fair statement--i do think tarantino was interested in the film about films bit more, and it did occur to me and aldo was meant to be a representation of that excessive figure.

yet, still, i found the contrast of the two storylines to be an uneven one at best, though i certainly don't dislike the movie because of it. actually, i quite liked seeing tarantino stretch himself.
Sep. 8th, 2009 07:49 am (UTC)
Calling the Shosanna storyline "realistic" is pushing it a bit guys. It was melodrama that seemed to quote constantly from genre.

The scene in which she runs away from the farmhouse across the field whilst Landa pretends to gun her down was classic western.

Basterds employs a classic logical method - self-insertion - to create a cinematic paradox. It takes the well-understood Hollywood obsession with WWII and the Holocaust and puts it inside itself (with the conceit of Jewish Hollywood exacting revenge on anti-semites), then goes looking for a proposition to which to apply reductio ad absurdum. What it finds and breaks is the idea that cinema can truthfully represent the world. Having considered and discarded (plus contempt) objective representation, Tarantino chooses vigorous advocacy instead.
Sep. 8th, 2009 10:17 am (UTC)
Calling the Shosanna storyline "realistic" is pushing it a bit guys. It was melodrama that seemed to quote constantly from genre.

i actually meant that the shosanna part was more realistic compared to the other half of the film--i struggled to find a better way to describe it while i was writing, then just shrugged, and figured at least i'm not using realism. heh.

it's pretty hard not to pick up on the searchers reference in that scene when she runs out. i was never quite sure why he was making them myself.
Sep. 8th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)
Yeah, the Searchers. That's it. I was thinking Shane. But you could just look at that scene, recall you're watching a Tarantino film, and know it was at least part homage to something or other. What isn't in one of his films?

The interview in the farmhouse and the celebrity heads scene in the basement are two of the best scenes I've seen in any film for a little while.

Other than that, I was obviously just being a smartarse.
Sep. 8th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)
lol. i think i ws mostly self conscious about calling it realist.

for the scene with the doorway, all i could think of was the searchers. he might've done it in another film, but if so it's not appearing to me in the moment.
Sep. 8th, 2009 10:40 am (UTC)
Yeah, fair point, realistic isn't the right word. But there is still a deliberate stylistic contrast there, between the swaggering machismo of the basterds and (more naturalistic, but still clearly melodramatic) French storyline. The Western reference is spot on too, not just at that point but the bar room mexican standoff etc.

Thorough agreement with your last paragraph too. An attack on the notion of objective cinema is a pretty good way to look at it.
Sep. 8th, 2009 11:33 am (UTC)
Yeah, stylistic contrast. One thing the contrasts (accompanied by Brechtian chapter headings / screen captions and other directorial interference) inevitably do is highlight the fact that the narrative is framed by genre.

The film is quite pro-human (if not humane, exactly) anti-Nazi but also somewhat anti- the history of the Holocaust film I think. I wonder what Tarantino thinks of:

The Pianist
Schindler's List
The Counterfeiters

etc. etc. I'll have to go and see if I can hunt down an interview with him about Basterds.
Sep. 8th, 2009 11:47 am (UTC)
particularly the initial chapter heading, with its 'once upon a time...' clearly signalling that this isn't a realistic narrative.
Sep. 10th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
I've avoided seeing this, and likely will continue to do so, partly because I detest Pitt, but mainly because while I like films that make you think, I don't particularly enjoy those that force you to analyze, especially as regards the director's motives or intentions. To me that signals a movie that is overbearingly indulgent. The only movie of QT's that I have been able to rewatch is Jackie Brown, the least Tarantino-esque of his films, and I like it very much. The rest, though they contain scenes I like, are just too damn self-celebratory.

Edited at 2009-09-10 07:03 pm (UTC)
Sep. 10th, 2009 11:21 pm (UTC)
about half the film is very close to the style he used in jackie brown, i thought, but the other half (all the pitt stuff) would probably just piss you off, i reckon.

i kind've like films that you can analyse, but i don't like being forced too--i just like it when you're watching something and it happens, because the film has been layered that way. same with books and shit, too. but, of course, i might've just spent too much time teaching...
Sep. 10th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
Yer a sodding academic, ye are! :)
Sep. 11th, 2009 09:23 am (UTC)
only on my credit card ;)
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