Wednesday, March 03, 2010

 

Once upon a time in France...


By Edward Copeland
Another film I saw during the blog's hiatus that I felt I needed to see again before writing about it was Inglourious Basterds and I'm pleased to say it holds up well on second viewing and confirms my initial impression that it's by far Quentin Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction and marks a new level in his filmmaking.


Coming so late to the game with an opinion of a film that's been out as long and discussed as much as Basterds always seems slightly foolhardy. Is there much left at this late date that I can add to the conversation that hasn't already been said? Probably not. Still, I feel the need to put my opinion on the record. Simply put, I think it's a bingo!

Christoph Waltz's praise for his multilingual performance as SS Col. Hans Landa has been more than deserving of all the accolades it has received. He's a wonder. Has anyone ever portrayed a Nazi as this charming and frightening at the same time and with such a great touch of humor as well? Tarantino always has a great touch with casting, but this may be the best pick he's ever made.

The two major female roles in the piece haven't received as much recognition as I believe they are due. Melanie Laurent's work as Shoshanna, a French Jew who escaped the slaughter of her family only to manage a Paris movie house which turns out to be a means for her to get revenge on the entire Nazi high command.

Diane Kruger proves a delight as Bridget von Hammersmark, a popular German actress who also happens to be a spy for the British working with them to bust up the premiere of Goebbel's latest propaganda epic, A Nation's Pride.

What struck me the most upon second viewing is how much Tarantino has grown and matured as a director. His writing is as sharp as ever, with the hipsterism kept to a minimum (and given mostly to Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of the title Nazi hunters). The sequence set in a tavern is a masterpiece all by itself, with the tension rising and subsiding and then rising again.

Tarantino also creates some downright striking and beautiful images, an attribute I've never really associated with him as a filmmaker before, such as the opening of the final chapter with Laurent dressed in red against a window of the cinema and, later, when her projectionist/lover Marcel (Jacky Ido) stands in the shadows behind the movie screen and a large pile of film canisters as A Nation's Pride plays above in black and white.

Also, excepting Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds marks the first film that Tarantino films basically in chronological order and though the pacing lags occasionally, for the most part it moves well from beginning to end.

While the parallels between the Basterds Apache-inspired methods against the Nazis was fairly obvious the first time around (different genocides), one thought I didn't have until I saw Tarantino interviewed by Rachel Maddow is that when two of the Basterds go into the movie premiere with dynamite strapped to their legs, they are basically going to act as suicide bombers. The act may be a terrorist one against Nazi bad guys, but it does give you pause to think about the technique and those who would do that in general, no matter the target.

When Pitt says at the end that he thinks what he's doing may turn out to be his masterpiece, many have interpreted that as Tarantino saying that about the film's place in his own canon. I'm not prepared to go that far, but it's definitely at least his second best and marks the beginning of a different direction in his work that could herald more exciting things to come.


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Comments:
Nice write-up Ed. I too found myself enjoying IB just as much or more upon my 2nd and 3rd viewings.

As far as the "masterpiece" comment by Pitt at the end, I didn't see that as Tarantino patting himself on the back at all. In fact, I came away with almost the opposite reaction.

Obviously, films and filmmakers are a constant motif throughout IB. But, what struck me the most was how the film people were depicted in a somewhat negative light by Tarantino (an uber-filmmaker).

Let me quickly explain. Consider the "film" people:

- Goebbels was the main "filmmaker," nuff said.

- Bridget von Hammersmark, the actor, screws up by setting up a meeting in a basement

- Lt. Archie Hicox, the film critic, screws up in the bar

- Pvt. Fredrick Zoller, the other actor, is ultimately shown to be a narcissistic ego-maniac with a sense of entitlement

The non-"film" people in IG were the "Basterds" and Shosanna. To me, Shosanna is not a pure filmmaker because she willingly burns down the movie house using reels of film for kindling. Yes, she makes movies. But, she makes movies in pursuit of a greater good rather than as an end in itself (which, could hurt my argument a bit, but okay).

Raine and the Basterds are clearly out of place in the movie house. Also, Raine is directly compared to Zoller in that they both carve swastikas.

Ultimately, it is Shosanna, the Basterds, and Raines who take down the Nazis and Landa -- a REAL accomplishment and their "masterpiece." Something the filmmakers only aspire to.

Just my 2 cents.
 
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