Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Inglorious Basterds

Inglorious Basterds (U.S., 2009) directed by Quentin Tarantino, 153 minutes

Eight nominations including Christoph Waltz for Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Screenplay

Tarantino has said that the title of the film was inspired by Italian director Enzo Castellari's 1978 war film, The Inglorious Bastards. This was a surprising film for me - there was far less gore and profanity and quick-witted but silly repartee larded with pop cultural references between the characters - all trademarks of his cinema making starting with Reservoir Dogs.

R and I first saw Reservoir Dogs at TIFF back in the 90s and it was truly a revolutionary piece of work: smart, profane, violent. I felt agitated and excited throughout the film. We knew we were seeing something truly different. Tarantino has spawned a host of minor league imitators, almost a sub-genre of film within Hollywood. But the fame and the acclaim, the knives have been drawn and there was much speculation regarding whether this long awaited film would live up to the hype.

SS Colonel Hans Landa (the miraculous German actor Christoph Waltz) arrives at a dairy farm in France to interrogate a farmer about rumors he is hiding a Jewish family in 1941. Landa gently coerces the farmer to confess then orders the SS to shoot the floorboards under which they are hiding. Waltz smoothly moves from charm to menace in seconds, terrifying the farmer's family and the hiding Jews. One teenage girl, Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), escapes. The tension is unbearable - drawn out and exquisitely acted between the colonel and the farmer and mercifully much less graphic than I anticipated.

The tone of the film is quite different here from most films produced today - slowed down and patient, more like a classic Hollywood film which did not feel the need to fill all the silences or move quickly to the next action-packed scene.

Flash forward three years ...
In Italy, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt with an excruciating accent that they claim is from Tennessee and a twitchy little black mustache which reminds me of Hitler) recruits a team of eight Jewish-American soldiers for a mission hoping to terrorize and demoralize German soldiers. They come to be known as the 'Basterds'. Their tactics involved scalping, slicing the shape of swastikas on to the soldiers' foreheads and generally showing no mercy. One individual, Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) known as "The Bear Jew", beats his victims to death with a baseball bat. His name is whispered amongst the Germans as if he is some terrifying, mythical creature.

By1944, Shosanna has a new identity as 'Emmanuelle Mimieux',  the owner of a Parisian cinema.
A smitten German soldier named Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), whose adventures fending off the Allies are to be celebrated in a propaganda film created by Joseph Goebbels much to Shosanna's horror, has fallen for her. Brühl has the right amount of charm and finesse which quickly elides into viciousness when he doesn't get his way. Zoller convinces Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) to hold the premiere at Shosanna's cinema.

So Shosanna plots to assassinate the highest ranking Nazi officers by burning down the cinema which contains highly flammable film, with the aid of her love, the projectionist. But before the Nazis face a death by chicken fricassee, we see the now mandatory Mexican standoff, vintage Tarantino, between some allied officers posing as Nazis, a German double agent named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Krüger) and some German soldiers in a Parisian tavern. This, too, is long drawn out scene, excellently played and with no certainty that the good guys will prevail.

Aldo Raine learns that Hitler will be attending the premiere at Shosanna's theatre and devises a plan where he, Donny and Omar (Omar Doom), will pose as Italian escorts at the premiere and blow up the cinema.

Landa soon connects von Hammersmark with the shooting in the tavern and strangles her at the premiere. He also uncovers the three Americans posing as Italians, Aldo, Danny and Omar. Landa then makes a deal with Raine's commanding officer for full immunity if he permits the assassination of Hitler and the other high ranking officers to proceed.

I won't reveal the rest of the plot ... it might not go as you would have foreseen. The "good" are  not necessarily saved, nor all the "evil" punished. And I think Tarantino's boasting that this is his best film is not overstated. It displays a new maturity and despite Pitt's curious mugging (I think he is trying to impersonate Clark Gable) the acting is uniformly strong, the costumes and settings picture perfect.

It has been accused of being a Holocaust revenge fantasy but I think it is very much more than that.


Cheryl said...

I am probably one of the few women in the world who finds Brad Pitt kinda creepy, so I didn't see the film. Maybe I should reconsider!

I did like Benjamin Button . . .

Michelle said...

Truly? Wow, that is an unusual response - although I have to say I found him thoroughly unattractive here!