Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

USA, Germany 2009
153 min

Wow. I can't remember the last time there were more than one (if even that) watchable film showing in the theater during the short period of one month. I have already written about Public Enemies [post], a film I was surprisingly pleased with. But when Tarantino's new film hit the theaters, I thought I would burst into tears of joy. Can this be happening? Is there a hope for modern cinema? Will I, in say 30 years, be able to look back and brag about the day I saw this-and-that classic film at the cinema?

I certainly think so, after having seen Inglourious Basterds. There is hope! And I really wish that not all classic film devotees will ignore new films totally - after all, we all want to create new classics, right?

I will not go on too much about this film.* For one thing, I know that this blog is called Lolita's Classics, and I'm expected to write about much older films than this. (Even though I really believe that this one is to become one of the few immortal films from the early 2000's.)
The other reason why I won't ramble about Inglourious Basterds is that it's a Tarantino film. And everyone who has seen only a fragment of a film of his, knows that the plot is seldom too easy to explain. Anyway, the plot is seldom the strength of the film.

When it comes to Tarantino, film is art. Whether it's the surreal everyday dialog ("Royal with cheese"), unexpected camera angles and scene cutting, unusual color schemes or with purpose scratchy frames. Here we have a director that is still experimenting with ways of expression. A guy that dares to go in the opposite direction than his fellow filmmakers.
In short, Tarantino is a really fascinating director, in the same category as, say, Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. Or for that matter (while already name dropping); Polanski, Truffaut and Godard.

Quentin Tarantino. Perhaps not beautiful, but nonetheless a mastermind.

Well, hey-ho! I feel I'm doing well in the "not rambling on and on about it" department. Let's cut to the film itself.

I know I have been complaining about movies nowadays never manage to be shorter than two hours, and this is one of those. Inglorious Basterds is no shorter than two and a half hours. But the difference is huge - I wouldn't have cut out or shorten any of the scenes in it. This is the kind of film that needs to be a little longer, in order to get the audience to really enter the world of cinema.
The introduction scene is a great example. The pace is comfortable, Tarantino doesn't rush. I almost feel that he all through this film thought "Fuck the impatient public. I'm creating - I won't compromise the quality of my art by adding unnecessary action to keep the interest of a retarded audience."
Or at least something similar.

Now I'll do my best with describing the plot.
It's the early 1940's. A French farmer, Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) and his three daughters are visited by the infamous German "Jew Hunter", Col. Hans Landa (Waltz), who is on a mission to track down hiding Jewish families. Landa is obviously suspecting that LaPadite is hiding a family, but he never says it out loud. Instead he sits down, lights a huge pipe (a hint to Sherlock Holmes) and asks for a glass of milk. (His main interrogation strategy is to keep people uncomfortable and uncertain whether he knows something or not.) Landa smiles and thanks for the glass of milk, with a dubious remark:
"Mes compliments a vos filles et vos vaches."
He underlines the word "vaches". Translated to English, the sentence means "My thanks to your daughters and your cows".
Why do I mention this, you might wonder. Because the word "vache" is not only the French word for "cow", but it is also a vulgar slang for "vagina". What I'm trying to say is that Tarantino manages to fill even the French and the German dialog with double entendres and cleverly hidden insults.

[Update: The quote was not entirely correct, the actual quote is "À votre famille et à vos vaches, je dis bravo.", which does not change the meaning of the pun, and it sounds better. Thanks for informing me, Michael 'Llakor' Ryan!]

It does not take too long before Landa plainly asks LaPadite if he hides a Jewish family in his house. LaPadite has played his part well, but realizes that Landa is on to him. With a tear falling down his chin, he points out where under the floor the Jewish family is hiding. Landa calls for his men, who shoots the wooden floor into pieces. One Jewish daughter, Shosanna, manages to escape the massacre.

Cristoph Waltz as Hans Landa must be one of the modern actors that has amazed me the most - he is simply brilliant. You can't help but having a kind of love/hate relationship with his character. He keeps everyone around him on the edge, they're never sure whether he is onto them or just messing around. He is a monster, but still have some twisted, sick charm. Your conscience will haunt you long after seeing this film, I tell you.

"The Jew Hunter", Col. Hans Landa (Waltz).

Now to the inglourious basterds, and Brad Pitt. Years ago I hated this actor. I've always hated the typical teenage poster idols. After his part in Fight Club (1999), I had to change my opinion about him. He really can act, and he can be quite adorable. If yet, a little mental. Playing Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds, he grew even more in my eyes. I guess Pitt is that kind of an actor who needs a skilled director to bring out his qualities, and it's worth it.
For the first thing - he plays a character his own age. In the close-ups you see the thin lines under his eyes, and it does look awfully good on him. And the old-fashioned cap should live and start a family on Pitt's head.
But most importantly - he has a character that is just oh, so right for him. He is cool as hell.

Lt. Aldo Raine (Pitt) gathers a group of American-Jewish soldiers to complete a mission - each of them will kill and cut off the scalps of a hundred Nazis. They do so by infiltrating the enemy, pretending to be Nazis themselves.
The group calls themselves "The Basterds", and soon the rumor about their fatal habits is spreading among a frightened Nazis of The Third Reich.
Tarantino has cleverly skipped the training-for-the-mission part of the story (I had feared a 1980's montage scene), because it's not important. We instead directly get a wonderful insight in the Basterds' interrogation technique, shown in a lovely graphic manner. But in the usual Tarantino way, it's more entertaining (and strangely artistic) than gruesome. Or am I just a very sick girl?

Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt and Eli Roth.

The earlier mentioned Jewish girl, Shosanna, with a brand new Aryan identity, now runs a movie theatre. This causes a lot of fun references to classic cinema, like G.W. Pabst, Marlene Dietrich, Leni Riefenstahl and Louis B. Mayer (who, according to the Nazis, is second greatest in the film industry after the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels). Shosanna is courted by a German sniper hero, Pvt. Fredrick Zoller (Brühl, who we recognize from the international success Good Bye Lenin! from 2003).
Fredrick has just played himself in a film adaption about his war efforts, and has soon convinced the obviously disgusted Shosanna to premiere the new film in her theatre, with all the big names of the Nazi organization attending - including Der Führer himself.
If this isn't a perfect opportunity for revenge, then what is?

Among this misch-masch, we also have a German actress, Bridget von Hammersmark (played by Diane Kruger) who works for the Basterds, informing them about the film premiere at Shosanna's movie theatre. Soon we not only have Shosanna plotting for revenge, but also the Basterds planning on blowing up the whole Nazi organization, mustaches and all.

Even though this is a historical film, it is far from predictable. Tarantino has thrown most historical correctness aside, you see. It is a "What if?" film, Tarantino style. Watching Inglourious Basterds is like entering a parallell universe, truly fascinating.
In the lack of historical correctness, Tarantino has instead chosen to reach another kind of relism. For example it's a quatrilingual film (French, German, English and Italian), and the film was mainly shot in different locations in Germany and in Paris, France, instead of going out in the American country and faking the locations. He has hired French and German actors, instead of American actors with silly accents. (Something for you, Kate Gabrielle!)
You therefore notice that there's a lot of efforts behind this film, something that is great about Tarantino. Instead of massproducing a lot of crappy films, and only once in a while put some energy into it (like many other directors do), Tarantino puts his soul in his work, and make almost exclusively masterpieces.

Mélanie Laurent - a modern femme fatale.

The actress playing Shosanna, Mélanie Laurent, breaths Golden Age of Hollywood all over. Sure, in most scenes she appears in an old cap, straight unbrushed hair and no make-up, but she still looks ravishing and glamorous. She is so real and has such charisma. I can't see how she does it. But what I know is that I get the same feeling watching Laurant, as I got watching Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies. I hope to see more of them both in Hollywood.

The most surprising actor to be found in the film though, must without a doubt be Mike Myers. I really thought I misread his name when the film started. I mean, while Tarantino made Jackie Brown (1997), Mike Myers introduces his sex crazy, time travelling British agent to the movie going audience in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)!
No complaints - he was great as General Ed Fenech. I was just a bit shocked, to understate it.

Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark. Stunning!

So, what are my final thoughts about Inglourious Basterds? I'm still in quite a rush after this experience, and I can't really think straight. Besides, I want to see the film again before I can decide whether this is my favorite Tarantino or not. (As today, Death Proof, 2007, is my number one. Even though I usually don't like to rate films.)

I found it both disappointing and amusing that Bridget von Hammersmark was a fictive character - I thought I had a new German actress to discover! She is however a great character, and very credible to that. That's about the only negative thing I can come up with. But it's not really negative, is it?

All I can say for sure right now is that I've had myself a film experience so fascinating, that I can't remember the last time I had one like it. This is without a doubt the winner of this years films. (Perhaps that's not saying too much?)
The film might not appeal to everyone, because it's art. You either love it, or you don't. And I guess you understand what category I belong too.

[Update: If you enjoyed this, I recommend Llakor's blog post on his experience of seeing the film at the Fantasia Film Fest Besides from being amusing, it gives you an interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse.]

*Sorry, I couldn't stop myself.


Elizabeth said...

Good for you that you're able to find modern movies you like! It sounds like you really enjoyed this one!

Lolita of the Classics said...

I sure did! It's not too often a modern movie blow me away like this, so I was quite shocked :)

Diana. said...

I´m sorry but I´m not going to read anything this time, because i hope to see the film this september at the International film festival in San SEbastian. I can´t waiiit!!! Yuhuuuuu!!


Samuel Wilson said...

It doesn't surprise me that you like a Tarantino, especially a period piece like this. From all I know about the man, he digs the classics as much as the exploitation stuff that usually inspires him. Since I'm a fan of this film, I'm also happy, personally, to see someone with your tastes approve of it.

Michael "Llakor" Ryan said...

Hi Lolita

Great review!

I wonder if you got the bit about "Vache" partly from the following imdb comment?

It is an excerpt from my longer review from off my blog here:

For the sake of pedantic accuracy, I messed up the original quote slightly, probably because I wrote the review at 2 am right after seeing the Canadian premiere at The Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.

The actual quote was more like: à votre famille et à vos vaches, je dis bravo.

Doesn't alter the pun and actually comes off as slightly more sinister than the quote that I remembered.

Louie said...

Am I the only one who saw the preview in the theaters and thought Pitt's characters name was "Aldo Ray"?

Lolita of the Classics said...

Please come back when you have seen it! :)

Samuel Wilson:
That's what I love about Death Proof - his genre references couldn't be more obvious!
And thank you for the, indeed, very kind words!

Michael "Llakor" Ryan:
Thank you so much for correcting me! I've updated my post. And yes, I took it from your Imdb comment! I don't usually do that if I don't know that it's correct, but I guess your French fooled me there - I thought it sounded correct! My mistake.

Great post of yours! I took the liberty to link to it from mine ;)

Hmm... But the way Pitt speaks, the last letters of every word are kind of hard to hear, so I guess it's easy to mistake "Raine" for "Ray"!

Juanita's Journal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juanita's Journal said...

It's interesting that you should mention both INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and PUBLIC ENEMIES. They are two of a small handful of films I have enjoyed this summer.

Lolita of the Classics said...

Juanita's Journal:
I try too keep this blog about classics, but if I see an great new movie with the potential of becoming a classic in the future, I don't see why I shouldn't right about it!
Oh, any film tips you'd like to share? :)

action movies said...

A great movie and a great choose of foreign actors! I'm really glad that QT has gotten back to his superior writing and directing ability as like he had in the 90's.