Inglourious Basterds

inglourious basterdsConsidering how long Inglourious Basterds had been gestating inside Quentin Tarantino’s head (improper spelling and all) it isn’t that surprising how quickly he wrote and directed the film, all under the pressure of meeting the deadline for it’s highly anticipated debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Yet with that said, it does add another item to the list of achievements that Tarantino’s new film encompasses.

As anyone who’s seen the film knows by now, the beautiful hand drawn poster visible here is much more representative of the film as a whole than the “in your face” marketing that had been hyping up Basterds as a once in a lifetime experience to see war “through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino”. Admittedly, a Tarantino war film would surely be a unique sight, but maybe we’ll get that some other day, because Inglourious Basterds certainly isn’t it.

What he has delivered instead is a wholly unique, vividly written and masterfully shot character study on an epic scale in a historic time, by one of the worlds greatest directors; who in the eyes of this reviewer is only just beginning to reach his prime.

Some viewers were angry that the film was in only a small part about the Basterds; blame that partly on the marketing but mostly on a serious lack of patience in the mainstream moviegoers, a problem that only seems to be getting worse, but that requires another entry altogether….

As the poster so eloquently points out, the entire narrative of the film is trapped inside of the character of Shosanna, a Jewish girl who’s entire family is murdered in the virtuoso opening scene, which also handles the nifty trick of introducing one of the great screen villains in recent memory, Col. Hans Landa Shosanna. Shosanna, played wonderfully by Melanie Laurent, may only be a factor in the overall story of Inglorious Basterds, but her image lingers on the screen (quite literally in one instance…) the entire time.

Landa, also known by the none too subtle nickname “The Jew Hunter”, is played with zealous infection by Christoph Waltz. His opening scene is one for the history books, and every scene he’s in afterwords is infected with an air of  joyously demented suspense. “I like my unofficial title precisely because I have earned it” he says in his introductory scene, wherein he trumps his opponent not only verbally but visually, in one of the films funniest sight gags. One of the joys of his character is that he seems to constantly be ahead of everyone, and in each scene he’s featured in he seems to pull another trick out of his bag; an interesting set of morals and a constantly expanding grasp of world languages are among his delights.

Brad Pitt’s Basterds are a just plain fun, and it works to their advantage that they are spoken about more than seen, although when they do make an appearance they leave a lasting impression. As opposed to the rest of the film, where Tarantino seems to be showing some form of restraint, he mostly lets loose in the sequences with The Basterds. An out of left field sequence with narration by Samuel L. Jackson somehow manages to work, and sets up his voice for a more vital sequence later in the film, yet by that point the entire story is beginning to reach such a fever pitch that anything seems possible…and we soon find out that in Tarantino’s universe pretty much anything is.

I’ve seen Inglourious Basterds twice now and I am relieved to say my initial reaction was correct: this is a more than worthy addition to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography and one of, if not the, best films of the year. It’s less a masterful homage to spaghetti western and more of a full bodied piece of art, once that is arguably (in his own words) Tarantino’s masterpiece. Reservoir Dogs was a kick to the nuts, Pulp Fiction was the early masterpiece, Jackie Brown the proof that he wasn’t a two trick Pony. Kill Bill in it’s entirety was pretty much a genre fan’s wet dream, but Inglourious Basterds is the real thing; transcending genre conventions and creating a fully realized world that could only exist in the movies.

In lesser hands this film would’ve been a never ending bloodbath, like Kill Bill Vol. 1 without the mastery of pure style and energy; but viewed through the lens of Tarantino, the story of the Basterds has evolved into something I doubt even he had imagined a decade ago, when serious talk of this film first started. Inglourious Basterds is an epic in small doses, a beautiful homage to cinema, a wildly imaginative take on history, and beyond all undeniable proof that the auteur theory is more than just a theory.

“In France, we respect our directors” a character says at one point. Out of context this sounds wildly pretentious, but in the course of the film it just manages to put a smile on a film lovers face, as if Quentin is patting us all on the back and saying “don’t worry, I’m one of the few we have left, and I’m not going to let you down, even if that means I have to burn this motherfucker to the ground.”

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~ by rozco on October 4, 2009.

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