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Monday, August 24, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Allow me to indulge, for this is not a review, only a ramble. First, let me get this off my chest - Time's Richard Corliss is an asshole for revealing the final scene in the first paragraph of his review. I usually read the first and last paragraphs of reviews from people I respect (Corliss not being one of them). I was just flipping the pages of Time and read the first paragraph a few hours before stepping into the theater. Imagine the bitterness in my mouth. But then he says something sensible in the last paragraph, and I quote here: It's just possible that Tarantino, having played a trick on history, is also fooling his fans. They think they're in for a Hollywood-style war movie starring Brad Pitt. What they're really getting is the cagiest, craziest, grandest European film of the year. The Europeanness Corliss means is that the action is in the words. And sometimes the simmering tension between conversationalists is so hot that when they finally pull out their guns the atmosphere seems to cool down.
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Every review I've read is head over heels with Christoph Waltz's performance as the smooth Nazi criminal. He's good. But not all of them are talking about Melanie Laurent's portrayal as Shosanna Dreyfus. In one of the trademark QT scenes where dialogues and photography and acting skills come together: Laurent and Waltz sit together in a restaurant in Paris; he's a Jew hunter, she's a Jew under an assumed French name; he hints that he knows her identity by ordering a cup of milk (she was raised in a dairy farm). The talk is plain but we can feel her pain and fear. I've seen such control with other European actresses like Julie Delpy, Kristin Scott Thomas & Emma Thompson.
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There are five chapters in the movie, all loosely related but contributing to the final chapter's momentum. The first chapter is titled 'Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France...' - lending a fairy tale feeling and totally quashing anyone who expects historic authenticity. The second chapter is not titled, it simply says 'Chapter 2'; this is Tarantino's symbolic middle finger, somewhere between casualness and lazy arrogance to even name his film segments. And even when he comes up with a title, it doesn't make much sense. The final chapter is called 'Revenge of the Giant Face' or something like that, but has no significant meaning.
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The beauty of individual sentences doesn't always add to the beauty of the scene as a whole. This is mostly the fault of the editor, not Tarantino, for he can't distinguish between the goodness or mediocrity of his dialgoues as they all are his children and he loves them equally. There's a scene where random German soldiers play a version 'find out who I am in less 21 questions'. And then the same game is played by characters of interest to the screenplay. This was a stretch. There's another scene where a German-speaking British soldier with a special interest in pre-German-war movies is picked to play a spy. The scene bothers us with details of German cinemas now and then. There are a few other examples of such sag and it would have been a taut experience had they been edited out.
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We know that Tarantino is self-indulgent and sprinkles his works full of references to other movies, mostly B, sometimes parodying, sometimes celebrating. Another quote, this time from TNR's Chris Orr's review: Inglourious Basterds is far better than those films, but it is still, in some fundamental sense, less movie than "movie." And if Tarantino hopes to reach his full potential as a filmmaker, someday he's going to have to find the nerve to work once again outside the quotation marks. I can't agree more with the sharp Orr. Tarantino is a serious filmmaker and his talent cannot and should not be wasted on borrowing and punching classics and exploitation flicks. Though his 'Pulp Fiction' paid homage, it was ultra-refreshingly original. 'Kill Bill' is in a sense a Hong Kong kung-fu dance and 'Inglourious Basterds' in that same sense a spaghetti Western.
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4 comments:

Varaha said...

I think that the title 'Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France' is an allusion to Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time..." series...Leone was a European making exploitation movies in US and Tarentino is doing it the other way...not to forget the Italian connection...Coppola would be a proud father-in-law now :-)

Cheers
Varaha

Prasad Venkataramana said...

You're right and that's what I referred to when I said that he was nodding to the spaghetti western genre in my post.

I don't understand the Coppola connection. Why should he be proud?

Varaha said...

I thought that Sofia Coppola was Tarentino's wife...may be I am not fully correct...

- Varaha

Prasad Venkataramana said...

You're 'fully' incorrect. Sofia was once married to the brilliant director Spike Jonze.