Wednesday, August 26, 2009

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino, 2009, USA) The power of cinema to kill: to change the world, to capture truth at 24/fps and develop a new reality, a nitrous allegory concerning propaganda and revisionist history. Unfortunately, Director Quentin Tarantino buries his grand idea amid the violent squalor of hack acting and boring exposition, delivering a superficial catharsis where the once powerless Jewish victims punish Nazis, represented by the commando squad of Inglorious Basterds, who fill their abattoir with the bodies and scalps of German animals. This is frustratingly Tarantino’s worst film because there is a good story here, one that should have been homage to Truffaut’s THE LAST METRO instead of B-movie action flicks. The opening sequence as Colonel Landa cross-examines a farmer, knowing that the farmer is hiding a Jewish family under the floorboards, is absolutely stunning. Actor Christopher Waltz brilliantly portrays Landa, and it’s mostly his performance that keeps this dull film from being a total bore. The Colonel toys with the farmer, drinking milk, his subtle expression betraying the secret confidence that lingers between them: it’s not the words that matter it’s the eyes. But even here, Tarantino implodes the suspense with a harsh soundtrack instead of letting the machine gun’s staccato accusation pass judgment. And here is the crux of the real story, as one young girl escapes…to exact her revenge upon the Colonel and the entire Third Reich. Why did Landa let the girl escape? This question should have been Tarantino’s architecture of revenge and redemption…but it is a question never explored within the ‘Jew Hunter’s” psyche. The film should have followed Shosanna and her conflict with the Colonel, using her Cinema as the means to destroy the Reich: there is no need for the Basterds, and their exploits do little to drive the narrative: their purpose seems to add comic relief and bloodletting. Tarantino’s usually taught dialogue is mostly purposeless and inert, creating few laughs as Brad Pitt and Eli Roth chew up the scenery and spit out languid profanity. The exception is a cafĂ© sequence where Landa sits across from Shosanna years later…and orders her a glass of milk. Is this an insight into his lust for the hunt, an answer to why he let her escape? We never know, because the story isn’t concerned with her plight, only the adventures of imbeciles. Tarantino fills scenarios with Pabst and Riefenstahl references, an Emil Jannings walk-on, and was that a Dietrich poster in the background? Our Jewish heroine burns down the house with a cinematic fury while her ghostly visage condemns these tyrants: she speaks for the millions of dead because she is one of them, and here is the heart, the cathartic thrill of the story. But it’s washed away by Tarantino’s vainglorious misbegotten skin-carving climax. (D)