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Inglourious Basterds

July 26, 2019

Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Actors: Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent

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Synopsis: Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) escapes the brutal slaying of her Jewish relatives at the hands of infamous SS colonel and ‘Jew hunter’ Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) in 1941. In 1944, Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) creates a rogue army of Jewish-American soldiers, the ‘Basterds’, who kill and scalp Nazis on their way through occupied France. All three characters converge on Paris and a climactic showing of a Nazi war movie at Shosana’s own cinema.

Review: Inglorious Basterds really is classic Tarantino with his signature of tensely ironic set pieces, loquacious characters with their distinctive mannerisms and motifs, lashings of blood and violence, and of course the numerous meta-cinematic references.

The film is also clever, riotously amusing in parts, and does have some salient points to make about the relativity of the acceptance of violence: Are the Basterds’ brutal killings and scalpings more righteous because of what happened to the Jews and that the majority of the film’s audience will be from ex-Allied countries? Do two wrongs make a right?

Just a matter of personal taste, but I responded more to the film’s comic moments than its pretensions to something dramatic. At times, Tarantino lets his plot exposition get too baggy where he over-explains his conceits (a familiar paradigm from Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight). For example, would the ‘cinderella’ scene where Landa applies the missing shoe to Bridget von Hammersmark, essentially implicating her in the conspiracy, have been more shocking had we not seen Landa find the shoe previously? Also, are we to seriously believe that the previously infallible Landa would make the climactic mistake of (spoiler alert) assuming he can trust the Basterds when he offers himself up for immunity just before the Allies take back Paris?

More unquestionable is Tarantino’s fantastic ear for dialogue, use of ingenious motifs, and scabrous sense of humour. Tarantino plays wittily with the conventions of his multi-national array of characters (and, by extension, actors?) He conceives of a very funny and taut way to get round Michael Fassbender’s unusual Ulster-German accent, and the scene where Landa just happens to know Italian, thereby exposing the Basterds who thought they could pass under the radar as Italian film industry types, is nigh on comic genius. It’s a sign that few are still as witty on the big screen as Tarantino. (July 2019)

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