Sunday, April 4, 2010
Inglourious Basterds; war / action / black comedy, USA / Germany, 2009; D: Quentin Tarantino, S: Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, Martin Wuttke, Mike Myers, Samuel L. Jackson (voice)
World War II. SS Colonel Hans Landa arrives with his unit at a French dairy farm and kills a Jewish family hiding in the basement, but one girl, Shosanna, manages to survive. 3 years later, Lieutenant Aldo Raine leads a team of 8 US soldiers, "The Basterds", who kill Nazis in a guerrilla warfare. In the meantime, Shosanna is owner of a cinema in Paris and is informed that it was chosen to host a premiere of a new Nazi propaganda film about a German sniper, Zoller. Since it is revealed that Goebbels and Adolf Hitler are going to attend the premiere themselves, the 'Basterds' are brought in to try an assassin. Landa stops them, but then let's them burn the cinema anyway and kill the Nazi elite in order to ensure himself immunity after the war. However, Aldo carves a swastika on Landa's forehead.
Another half-masterwork by Quentin Tarantino: has sparks of high genius and passionate dedication to film that makes it consistently interesting, but again shows that the director is emotionally and spiritually illiterate. "Inglourious Basterds" are still much better than his previous two films, however, and helped him "regain" his cult reputation. Christoph Waltz is phenomenal in the brilliantly written character of the evil SS Colonel Hans Landa, who is both cunning and expressionistic, speaking four languages in the film, and is always interesting to listen, even when he chats at great lengths. Bizarrely, the two main heroes are surprisingly bland characters - as good as Brad Pitt and Melanie Laurent play them, the only thing we find out about their protagonists Aldo Raine and Shosanna is that they hate Nazis, but generally they just 'tag along' and only stay in Landa's shadow, which causes an uneven mood. When the bad guy has all the 'cool' moments and the heroes none, then it's a rather shaky concept. And it's not just the heroes - there are really many 'throw away' characters: almost all of the 8 members of the 'Basterds' are just extras, except for maybe Stiglitz (great Til Schweiger), whereas the character of "Bear Jew", who fights with a bat, seems as if he came from some caricature.
The mood is rather uneven: in the opening persecution sequence, the viewers are asked to condemn violence. However, already in the second chapter, the movie asks them to now cheer at the violence, this time for Aldo's paramilitary scalping and murdering as many Nazis as possible. This creates a dissonance in the tone. Adolf Hitler, with that red cape, also seems like some gross joke from a comic-book. Still, it's an fascinating departure from the director's usual genre: the story isn't as mean-spirited as it could have been, but much more disciplined, whereas there are neat references to classic films and artists, like Henri Georges Cluzot or Emil Jannings. Tarantino demonstrated his masterful touch in the virtuoso Leone-Hitchcockian 20-minute opening sequence at the dairy farm (Landa chats with the farmer in his home while the suspense steadily grows when it is shown that a Jewish family is hiding under the basement) and in the 20-minute tavern sequence (with a dynamite moment where a British agent goofs with the German accent and attracts the attention of a SS Major who turns off the music, puts his book away and sits at his table) as well as the 2-minute shoe fitting-perpetrator identification scene (an exquisite detail!). At moments, the story suffers from too much exposition and empty babble, but still has a specific twisted charm that gives it some spark and memorability usually missing from modern films, thanks also to some delicious parts where the characters talk in French and German at great lengths, and thus only 40% of the film is in English.