21 August 2009
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
I adopted the same mentality for Mr. Tarantino that I have towards Woody Allen-I’m glad they are both making films and I will catch up with them eventually…but there is no rush. Well, now there is a rush.
But here’s the thing, I’m not taking back anything. I still can’t watch Kill Bill again (I’ve tried) and I have yet to finish his Grindhouse film. So, I’m not the recanting critic. Instead I’m the re-enthused critic who is once again looking forward to many more films from the mind of Mr. Tarantino, especially if he makes another period piece - and Inglorious Basterds is a period piece.
First, my biggest criticism.
Mr. Tarantino is a lot like George Lucas. They both clearly have an encyclopedia of films knowledge. The problem is that their films end up feeling like they are made to exist inside of the film world they live in. That’s confusing.
Their films are so full of references, either by characters talking about films or by plot or characters just being from other films, that they feel like a copy of a copy. I mean, Martin Scorsese figures out how to integrate his obscene database of film references seamlessly into his entire body of work. And this only bothers me as much as it does, at least in the case of Mr. Tarantino, because I know he can write and direct a phenomenal scene (ex. anything in Jackie Brown that doesn’t contain Bridgette Fonda)
Second, the reasons to see this film.
The opening scene is such a textbook example of tension and suspense that I was smiling from ear to ear as I watched the interrogation that didn’t feel like an interrogation. Actually, it’s not textbook in a number of ways, which is why I loved it. A seemingly gentle farmer in the French countryside with three daughters is visited and questioned by a high ranking Nazi.
Yet, somehow, even with all of the film representations I’ve seen of Nazi’s and how much immediate hatred the swastika conjurs up, I found myself really looking forward to seeing what this character was going to do after this interrogation. I was literally on the edge of my seat as Col. Landa drank a glass of milk and then smoked his ridiculous pipe.
All the more terrifying to find out that the gentle farmer was in fact hiding his neighbors family in the cellar and then to watch the floorboards decimated with machine-gun fire. The fact that the farmer never looked guilty and that Col. Landa never really looked overtly evil speaks not only to the performers, but to the writer and director.
This just in: Brad Pitt is not the main character. I’m warming up to him as a performer, and as much as I laughed at his Lt. Aldo Raine, I was much more thrilled with the story of Shosanna Dreyfus, the woman who escapes from the celler and Col. Landa in the first scene and continues on with her life. After that ten minute opening scene, I want to know what this character is going to do.
So the way I saw the rest of the film play out was a battle between Col. Landa and Shosanna Dreyfus. The Basterds were in the film the way a romantic sub-plot will pop up in films, except, the Basterds were a much more welcome sub-plot. In looking at the film this way, the scene where Col. Landa discusses the logistics of the theatre with Ms. Shosanna (especially her reaction once he leaves) is absolutely devastating.
One last saving grace to the film is the period piece element. Mr. Tarantino is writing about a time period and events he never lived through, and I think that helped. There are still pop culture conversations about the movies of the day, but in the normal context in which that would pass as conversation. There is still a lot of musical cues, but not the “hey aren’t I hip” musical selections I felt were throughout the Kill Bill films. The dialogue and the music had to fit the period and they did.
More to come…