Thursday, February 25, 2010

Inglourious Basterds

2009, US, directed by Quentin Tarantino

Beyond all of its glorious cinematic flourishes, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is ultimately about the power of film to construct new worlds - even worlds that seem to deny the reality from which they emerge, rewriting history as casually as they introduce new characters or move from scene to scene. That Tarantino reworks the Second World War for his own dramatic ends isn't evidence in any sense of a failure on his part to grasp the reality of the war: for instance, he's absolutely clear on the pernicious, person-by-person nature of the Holocaust for many of its victims.

Rather, it's an indication of his belief in the power of storytelling to rework, redeem and grant catharsis even while acknowledging that this is ultimately a fable, an attempt to make sense of the world by moving the pieces around. While we can take exception with whether presenting the story of a band of murderous Jews is an appropriate table-turning catharsis, I don't think that Tarantino is in any sense unaware of the import of what he's trying to do (it seems equally obvious to me that your view of his moral standing in this regard is liable to impact any assessment of his film's artistic merits).

Perhaps in keeping with the film's more ambitious themes, Inglourious Basterds is also Tarantino's most assured bit of filmmaking: he seems most acutely aware here of what he wants to achieve, and is able to deploy his skills in the service of those aims. This, rather that the subject matter, marks Inglourious Basterds as a mature film: the director is aware of his strengths - among other things, an ability to create rhythm across often very lengthy scenes, a tremendous skill with words - and constructs his film with those in mind. As others have commented, the overall architecture and individual scene composition are very carefully considered, the pieces clicking together for an immensely satisfying structural payoff, while Tarantino has a sense of filmed space so clear that even when a character is offscreen we're aware of exactly where he or she is; it's an awareness he exploits to very tense effect.

It's also a film that revels in the spoken word: virtually every scene is either an extended conversation or a kind of performance: Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) are in many ways mirror images of each other, the one a smooth polyglot, the other an unapologetically brutal man, but they are both supremely confident in their abilities to talk their way into and out of situations. The difference, ultimately, may be that Raine is aware that words are just words, and not a substitute for action - something Landa is distraught to discover.

As in all of his previous films, Tarantino's casting is exemplary. He's acutely aware of the need to find the right person to savour and speak his words, and he's assembled an extraordinarily eclectic cast here, with pitch-perfect and frequently multilingual performances from actors like the remarkable Landa, Mélanie Laurent (as the Jewish heroine), Daniel Brühl, Michael Fassbender (who has had a pretty remarkable run in the last year or so), and, in a cameo, Mike Myers.

1 comment:

Simz said...

Loved your review ... Also the Background music is perfect ... Tarantino is such a aster storyteller ...one gets completely immersed in his world ...

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