To understand Inglorious Basterds you must first understand the tendencies of the director, Quentin Tarantino. This is not a film based in reality, more an exaggerated what-if example of a historical event, that whilst using ideas of the past contains a modern energy full of vibrant colour and, as seems customary with Tarantino, gore. There is a scene that I like to use to demonstrate the effectiveness of Tarentino’s mindset to people through this film, a scene that similarly demonstrates the need to often challenge the nerve of the audience. The SS Colonel Hans Landa smiling, charming walks into the home of a French dairy farmer who is harbouring a Jewish family. It is a scene that is horrific for reasons that we wouldn’t ordinarily think. Landa, this suave, leather-coated “Jew Hunter” is not just an arbitrary member of the army tasked with hunting down a particular type of people, but someone who out and out enjoys his work. This chilling example is of someone who is even beyond the atrocities of a Nazi, someone who has transcended a category, someone who has become an enigma in his own right, albeit a psychedelic, transfixed one.
Tarantino often gets criticised for his overuse of varying genres, the story of how he would memorise structural and stylistic points of the B-movies whilst working at a film store is often used as a case in point. However, does this mean for all extents and purposes that the director is incapable of being a creative force or does this limit him in his overly-reliant frame of mind. I’d suggest that Inglorious Basterds works so well as a film because he actually recognises these identifiable elements of genres and much like hip-hop sampling is able to incorporate them around an intensely clever, narrative-driven story. It’s incredibly harsh to berate Tarentino for his love of the B-movie, for does this effectively limit the broadness of his brush? Obviously with films like Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown the answer is an adamant no. Through Inglorious Basterds, he understands the genres that he is working with; the spaghetti western, the World War II adventure , the action epic, but at no point does he allow these supporting genres to envelope and take over the production. It is an explosive tale of characters taken to their extremities, and despite the homage to the various different styles, Tarantino maintains a uniqueness throughout that creates an inspired piece or work.
Inglourious Basterds depicts the fictional events of the Basterds, a troop of renegade soldiers who task themselves with ending the war, one Nazi scalp at a time. Led by Aldo Rayne (Brad Pitt), they comprise of an assortment of characters, ranging from the deranged, serial killer ex-German soldier to the overly-enthusiastic American-Jew, who with his ever swinging baseball bat earns himself the nickname “Bear Jew” amongst German soldiers. Brad Pitt is superbly cast in this role, his drawling southern accent laced with sarcasm and irony at every turn. The relationship between Tarantino and Pitt has always been one of mutual respect, however for Tarantino – and rightly so – the character has to correspond correctly to the actor as opposed to casting a big name for the sake of sales and marketing. Rayne the character suited Pitt to a tee, and as such the film works the better for it.
The other side of the story involves Shosanna and her tumultuous, torrid experience as the sole survivor of Hans Landa’s extermination of her family. Starting anew in Paris, she becomes the owner of a small, but quaint film theatre. A chance encounter sees Shosanna meet German war-hero Fredrik Zoller, who like an optimistic pest, launches a seemingly charming offensive in which he becomes infatuated, despite her rejection. Persuading Joseph Goebbels, the minister for Propaganda, to change the venue of his new film to Shoshanna’s theatre complex , Zoller inadvertently leads Landa back to his lost lamb. The story works much like a more complex version of the cat-and-mouse films of yesteryear. However, it is done in a way that feels fresh, constructed in a manner that doesn’t have you questioning what is happening, merely persuading you to sit back and enjoy the incredibly detailed and well structured ride.
Inglourious Basterds is a film that does probably requires multiple viewing in order to appreciate it in its entirety. However that’s not to say you won’t enjoy it the first time around, because with its fluid progression, easily digestible chapters and explosive, energetic intensity, there’s something for everyone. It’s quite demonstrative, as a film, of Tarantino’s importance as a modern director, someone who won’t conform to the ever increasing requirements of the Hollywood machine. The fact that he decided to showcase the film at Cannes describes his need to improve and develop as a director. Cannes is often the feeding ground for critics, who with a pen in one hand and a pad of paper in the other can tear a film to shreds before it has even built up momentum. Tarantino, therefore, also shows confidence in his project, a project that took eight years to script.
If you’re looking for a romantic comedy, this isn’t it. True, it has romance and comedy, but horribly distorted, mutated versions. It’s an incredibly sophisticated piece of filmmaking of the highest calibre that deals in genre and character in equal measure. It is a homage to the spaghetti western, yet doesn’t allow itself to be taken over by the reference.
A pure piece of work, Tarantino has demonstrated yet again that the skill in shooting a film is believing in your own ideals and not that of someone else. His visual style, melded together with a truly dynamic performance from Christophe Waltz makes this an intensely clever and intriguing motion picture.