29 August 2009

Review of Inglourious Basterds

Fans of Quentin Tarantino have come to expect one thing from his films:  the unexpected.  The ear-slashing, the Gimp, a raged Robert De Niro, all of Kill Bill, have become staples of the Tarantino ouevre, and of current cinema as we know it, and as future generations will remember it.  

Inglourious Basterds delivers the unexpected in droves.  The film's marketing suggested a Kill Bill-esque 'Jewish-Americans mercilessly slaughtering Nazis' bloodbath, instead, Tarantino gave us a deeply cerebral picture smattered with bursts of relatively mild violence.

With his wordy script and the eye-opening performance of "Jew-Hunter" Christoph Waltz, Tarantino shrewdly captured the true terror of the Nazis.  It wasn't the cattle-car deportation to death camps -- horrible as they were -- but rather the corruptibility of otherwise good people, of the ever-present fear of being found out, whether you were hiding Jews, sympathetic to Jews, a partisan, a spy, or a Jew.  The Jew-Hunter's subtle innuendos, probing questions, suspicious gestures, and discomforting good humour would drive even the stoutest resistance fighter to his breaking point wondering, "How much does he know?" and "How do I escape this man?"

Inglourious Basterds is a fantasy.  In a reality where the majority of the literature, fiction and nonfiction, portrays the Jewish people, helpless and crippled, enduring unimaginable horror from the hyper-aggressive Juggernaut of the Third Reich, Tarantino imagines an alternative where the victims not only have a voice, but a baseball bat as it were, as a vehicle of vengence.

It has become marvelously clear that Tarantino's capacity for innovative storytelling has eclipsed the standard 2-3 hour feature film format (ahem, Kill Bill). Basterds clocked in at 153 minutes, and yet the film felt like it breezed by, with multiple plotlines and asides that begged for proper exposition.  Tarantino has entered the realm of eminent Polish auteur, Krzysztof Kieślowski, who required multiple films (10 to be exact for the appropriately titled Dekalog) to fully express his vision.

With Tarantino you never know what to expect, except this:  he'll keep on keeping on with films that make our palms sweat, our heads shake, and our mouths go, "Oh!"

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