Thursday, February 25, 2010

Inglourious Basterds

Once upon a time, in Nazi-occupied France...

The opening titles of Inglourious Basterds are presented over classical Western music in five mutually incompatible fonts. And I don't know why, but it feels right. Coming from any other director it would probably just be the most pretentious thing. But this is Tarantino, and he doesn't give a shit, and I love it.

The movie opens with Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, notorious "Jew Hunter", arriving at the house of a French dairy farmer suspected of hiding a Jewish family. The conversation is maddeningly polite as he quietly asks to be invited into the home, refuses the offered wine but asks for milk, and asks if he can smoke his pipe. Each sentence magnifies the unspoken tension. There's something in the screenplay in-between the dialogue. You don't know exactly what it is, but you feel it.

I've been trying to figure out about what's the "thing" with Tarantino movies, and I think it's the alluring combination of flippancy and gravity he adds to each scene. There are performances exaggerated to the edge of credibility, bizarre use of music, humor in horrible violence-- all bringing things up to the top, but not quite going over it. It's gloriously entertaining, and not just in a forgettable way, but in a way that reaches inside and demands a place in your memories, oozes with freewheeling power, and demands your respect.

The actual plot of the film is not what's important. It's set during the war, but I'd hardly call it a war movie. Inglourious Basterds belongs to a genre you may have encountered once before, following in the tradition of 300 by taking a historical setting and ripping history to shreds. World War II is perfect for this sort of schtick. The Nazis are such perfect villains.

Yes, the F├╝hrer is in there too, and only Quentin Tarantino could have the audacity to rewrite World War II to give him the sort of ending he deserves.

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