It is unsettling to be shown a mirror twice in a week and to not like what you see reflected in there! Midweek I saw the super serious District 9, and was confronted with the real fear of anything “alien” we all have. Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is a gloriously insane film set during WWII but with hardly any thought to the real history of the times. Just like the title, Tarantino twists history and creates a well crafted tale of cruelty, revenge, heroism that ends in an analysis of our psyche. It is a mature and coherent story or epic proportions, with the twin currents of sadism and comedy running through it. The film opens to an SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) on a Jew hunt at a French farm. Waltz is excellent as the charmingly urbane Nazi with the menace lurking in his benign gaze. His soldiers gun down the hiding family but one girl, Soshanna, manages to escape and run away.
Shoshanna later grows up to be Emmanuelle Mimieux (Melanie Laurent), a theater owner in Paris. Waltz heads the sadistic track, while the comic track is led by Brad Pitt playing Aldo Raine, a US army lieutenant, who has assembled a band of Jewish army men, the Inglourious Basterds, to go into Nazi territory and hunt and scalp Nazis! Thus is the serious holocaust type theme irreverently blended with a Spaghetti Western, and the Morricone music comes along for a fun ride! In a wink-nudge homage to the origins of these Westerns, Brad Pitt at one point masquerades an Italian stuntman, and while conversing with the Italian speaking Waltz, he has us in splits over his fumbling for words while still doing a commendable chin out-thrust Clark Gable look. The film is rich with references to films past and to cinema at large – and these are effortlessly weaved into the narrative. At one point in time Zoller, later shown to be celebrity sniper (Daniel Bruhl), asks Shoshanna if she is a fan of the German director because the director’s name is up on the marqee. Her response “This is France and here we value directors!!!”
The smitten Bruhl asks Goebbels, the director of a documentary on the heroic deeds of Bruhl as a lone sniper defending a town, to hold the premiere of the film in Shoshanna’s theater, and Goebbels finally agrees. Anyone who is someone in the 3rd Reich is to be at the premiere and multiple plots are hatched to incinerate, blow up, or simply shoot the Nazis. The Inglourious Basterds are to meet up with Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), who is recruited for the job by General Fenech (a hilarious cameo by Mike Meyers), and will be brought to the Basterds by a a German double agent, the blond actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).
The meeting goes horribly wrong, and all the German speaking among the group die, leaving Pitt and two least likely of his group to play an Italian film crew at the premiere. They are accompanied by the wounded Hammersmark. The Fuhrer shows up at the premiere, all begins to go haywire with Hammersmark discovered, Shoshanna’s plan to incinerate the theater by burning her highly flammable film collection in jeopardy, and a confrontation between Landa and Raine. The rest is to be seen to be believed.
Tarantino stitches these chaotic elements into a coherent tale that leaves us gasping at the improbability of events, while still cheering at his version of reality. It is precisely at this juncture that one is shocked to discover some of the parallels between the Nazi top brass, including the most amused Hitler and Goebbels, and our own selves. They are gleefully enjoying the simulated taking out of over 200 people by the lone sniper Bruhl in the documentary. As each body writhes in death, or falls out of a window, there is much cheering and clapping. And then the remaining of the Basterds find guns, the Nazis are locked in, highly flammable film is burning, and there is machine gunfire from the balconies to finish off these spectators who moments ago were enjoying a film about carnage! And we begin to enjoy their screams as they are shot, while backlit by flames from behind the screen that slowly engulf the theater, and finally the bomb planted by the most unlikely conspirator goes off and puts an end to the carnage.
The film is quite a morality tale and neither Landa nor Shoshanna escape the from what they plotted. And we are confronted with the beast within us, one that can enjoy the gory killing of those we despise! So what separates us from Nazis? Is it merely the fact that we are spectators and not perpetrators? This script was mostly written before Kill Bill. It likely owes much of its coherence to the fact that it is post-Pulp Fiction Tarantino, when the man was at his peak. But it was made into a film now, telling us that Mr. Tarantino still has what it takes to mesmerize us. He can imagine, build, and keep coherent a complex tale that is still enjoyable. The characters are larger than life but still all to real. When Landa interrogates Shoshanna at the coffee shop, she tries to stay calm and cool while the audience sweats buckets at the tense body language. Everyone is at minimum competent at acting. Christopher Waltz is a find – he is astonishingly good at making us sweat with one smile. Melanie Laurent plays Shoshanna/Emmanuelle with panache and looks stunning in red! Pitt reminded me so much of the swashbuckling Clark Gable, while Diane Kruger harkens back to the Darryl Hannah character of Kill Bill. The film is visually most pleasing and musically rich like most previous Tarantino films. I am ready to see this one again, and pay more attention to the little details this time around.