It opens with a beautiful Spanish guitar spin on Beethoven's Für Elise by Morricone and ends with an epic a cinematic shoot-out as you're likely to see. In between, we have plucky female plotting, scalping of Nazi soldiers, close-ups of strudels, feet fondling and a whole babel of languages. It can only be Tarantino.
Inglourious Basterds is set in a Nazi-occupied France, and is a story that, not dislike Kill Bill, told in chapters. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the terrifying character of Colonel Landa (Christoph Waltz, in one of the performances of the year), as he intrudes a self-contained French dairy farmer and his three daughters to question whether or not he is hoarding Jews.
He is, and they are hiding under his floorboard, and when Landa cops on to this, instructs his men to savagely shoot at the floor. Shosanna Dreyfuss (Mélanie Laurent, as good an actress as she beautiful a woman) escapes, alive. A few years later, she is the owner of a small cinema and, in catching the eye of war hero Fredrick Zoller, has her cinema selected as the venue for the premiere of his war biography.
Meanwhile, American hillbilly Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is giving a Dirty Dozen-style motivational speech to his group of Inglourious Basterds, demanding a "debt" of 100 Nazi scalps per person under him. When British general (some inspired parodying by Mike Myers) cottons on to the movie premiere, he sends in a part-soldier part film coinnosier Michael Fassbender in to collaborate with the Basterds to, like Dreyfuss, kill some Nazis.
Tarantino knows how to capture his audience's attention, and this he does right from the onset. The opening chapter is so tense that we, like the characters hiding under the floorboards, dare not breathe. The Nazi officer nicknamed the "Jew Hunter", Col. Landa, who has intruded, takes his sweet time probing the farmer, making small talk, like a hawk toying with its food.
The scene is filmed so calmly and so beautifully that it is a stark contrast with the scenes of vicious violence that it houses. In that scene alone, French and English are employed. Later, German is spoken, and even later, we get a dalliance with Italian. This is very much a multilingual affair, and the hubbub of languages contributes to the busy, sprawling, talky feel of the film.
Brad Pitt is the main draw for plenty of teenage girls toward this film, but they may feel mighty disappointed as he is not all that bungable here, especially compared to previous films. The script, however, deals some hilarious one-liners that Pitt gobbles up gratefully, and it is a much, much better performance than his pain-in-the-ass turn inBurn After Reading.
Yes, I'm still going on about how much I loathe that film.
But Inglourious Basterds is not a one-man film. Eli Roth's turn as the "Bear Jew", a man who clubs his foes to death with a baseball bat is as hilarious as he is terrifying, Michael Fassbender's English-sergent-playing-a-German is pitch-perfect, and Til Schweiger's taciturn performance makes for a hilarious sub-plot re-telling how he became one of the Basterds.
Christoph Waltz, who won a Cannes award for his performance, must surely be in contention for a nod for Best Supporting Actor. Whether he is asking for a glass of milk, displaying his terrific linguistic skills (he has single-handedly made me wanna learn like, every single language spoken in this film) using his skills of espionage or eating a strudel, he is a chilling presence, both subtly scary and larger-than-life at the same time.
The woman are equally magnificent. Diane Kruger, who has not been blessed with the most beguiling of roles in the past, plays celebrated German actress Bridget von Hammersmark, who is also working as a double agent for the Basterds. She is kitted out every part the elegant lady, and carries herself with a wonderful kind of grace, but proves that the character of BVM is much more than just a pretty face.
Meanwhile, as Shosanna, whom Tarantino declared was always intended to be protagonist of the film, Mélanie Laurent is amazing. The camera deifies her in a way that Tarantino usually only reserves for Thurman, but it is deserved, because her character - and her performance - are utterly incredible. In contrast to BVH's glamorous pearls and designer labels, Shosanna is dressed very plainly, but Laurent's inner beauty shines through.
Her large eyes and fragile beauty are as striking as they are affecting - and her portrayol of bottled in hatred and fear after the strudel scene with Landa moved me to tears. Furthermore, the preparation scene, where she applied rouge to her cheeks as if bunging on camo for going into war to the terrific choon "Cat People/Putting out the Fire" by David Bowie, is one of the most memorable in movie history.
Lastly, the depiction of the relationship between her and her cinema projectionist Marcel (Jacky Ido) is bittersweet and sad - the melancholy kiss they share before they're about to execute their plan was so moving - and although only a very little part of Inglourious Basterds, it was the thing about the film that stayed with me the most.
There are moments of high drama followed almost immediate by rib-tickling humour. The scene wherein Brad Pitt tries to pass off as Italian was hilarious. Some of this humour is in the violence, which, being Tarantino, spares no gruesome details. I found it particularly difficult to watch one scene which had some gruesome finger-in-wound-torture. Ick.
Although it would be asinine to try and second-guess Tarantino, I have a feeling that the film-within-a-film at the end and the ensuing chaos in the cinema is QT's sneaky way of telling us that violence breeds violence. Which is obviously not a new concept, but if it is what he was trying to say, then there's more to him than I thought.
Quentin Tarantino's latest offering is a meandering, indulgent and sometimes even boring tale of vengeance in a Nazi-occupied France. It is also the funniest and my favourite film of the year. The director clearly loves himself and has complete faith in his skills as a filmmaker, but in the case of Inglourious Basterds, it is to the benefit of the movie. Rather awesome.
For more of my film reviews, click here!
For more of my film reviews, click here!