Love him or hate him, Quentin Tarantino is an uncompromising filmmaker. His films exist in a special Tarantino universe that looks a lot like ours but is re-imagined and inspired by a great love of the cinema. Characters in this universe don’t talk the way we do, but the way Tarantino wishes we did. With his 6th feature film, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, Tarantino rewrites history by giving World War II the kind of ending only he could write. I must say I like his version of WWII better than the actual one.
While watching INGLORIOUS BASTERDS I was reminded of a quote from Francois Truffaut who said “I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between.” Tarantino’s films are always about the celebration of cinema. He has often been called a collage artist, ripping off other artist’s styles and slapping them together on celluloid. Those who make such criticisms fail to see the joy and exuberance in his pastiche. Tarantino is first and foremost a lover of films and film history. It’s no coincidence that the climax of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS takes place in a movie theater or that the primary weapon in the film is a collection of old, flammable nitrate film prints. If the power of the cinema can’t take down the Third Reich then nothing can.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS opens with a masterful scene that ranks among Tarantino’s best. For such a hyperactive person, watch here how patient a filmmaker Tarantino is. A farmer in the French countryside gets a knock on the door from Col. Hans Landa of the SS (Christoph Waltz) who believes he may be hiding Jews somewhere in his home. Tarantino takes his time with this sequence, slowly ratcheting up the tension. Waltz has been the source of all the buzz coming from this film ever since it premiered at Cannes where he snagged the Best Actor prize. Waltz lives up to the hype by creating a unique screen villain who is equal parts charm, mystique, brilliance and evil.
A teenage girl named Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) manages to escape Landa’s clutches, eventually becoming the owner of a French movie theater. She catches the eye of German war hero Frederick Zoeller, who is the subject of Goebbles’ latest propaganda film. Zoeller takes a shine to Shoshanna and suggests to Goebbles that they move the premiere of his newest film to her theater. In another part of France, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is leading a squad of Jewish-American soldiers on a killing spree of Nazis who will use German double agents to try to sneak into the big premiere themselves.
Tarantino takes his time letting these story-lines converge, including several extended scenes designed to slowly build the tension. Waltz has a great scene in a restaurant with Shoshanna in which eating strudel has never been more menacing. Look for the extreme close-ups in this scene that highlight Shoshanna’s heightened sense of awareness and fear. Waltz’ Landa walks a perfect tightrope in this scene. He is at the same time pushy and polite, charming and evil, intense and relaxed. Another scene takes place at a German tavern where the Basterds and the double-agent meet to discuss their plans. The tavern serves as a lion’s den, where the slightest slip-up could mean death.
It would be impossible to discuss a Tarantino film without discussing its soundtrack, since music plays such an important part in his work. Who can hear “Little Green Bag”, “Stuck In The Middle With You”, “Misirlou” or the whilstling ladies of the 5,6,7,8’s without immediately thinking about Quentin Tarantino? The soundtrack to INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is another perfect example of Tarantino’s melting pot of a vision. What other WWII film features songs by Billy Preston and David Bowie? Like in KILL BILL, Tarantino turns to the master, Ennio Morriocone, for several cuts that fit seamlessly despite being used originally in Spaghetti Westerns. The Bowie song upon first listen feels out of place until you realize that lyrically it fits Shoshanna’s story perfectly. The film also features the most insidious version of “Fur Elise” I’ve ever heard.
INGLORIOUS BASTERDS has been a source of high anticipation for years. It is a different film than the script I read a year and a half ago, when Adam Sandler was set to play The Bear Jew and the French portion of the film was in black and white. There are flaws to INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS but the occasional silliness can be forgiven. This is an exciting, exuberant retelling of World War II by a unique and talented filmmaker.