27 August 2009

At the movies: Inglourious Basterds.

A new film from Quentin Tarantino is always a big deal.

Last time around was the interesting Death Proof section of Grindhouse, a fairly artsy take on exploitation from the man who has made a fascinating career out of combining and recombining the two to often glorious results. That fusion, it seems, is the blueprint for all the man's future work, it seems; artsploitation as a defining characteristic and its own reason for being.

So now, with a big star (Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine), a big budget, and WWII-era Europe to play with, we’ve got QT getting down and dirty with big, resonating chunks of human history and hewing out a world where loving the movies isn’t just the right thing to do, but the thing that may save your life.

In the midst of occupied France, smack dab in the midst of World War II, a secret phalanx of elite Jewish-American soldiers are on a mission to sow the seeds of chaos and fear throughout the occupying Nazi forces. At the same time, a dedicated group of resistance fighters and British operatives are trying to strike a decisive blow against the German High Command. And a woman, survivor of a massacre that obliterated her family, happens to meet cute with the means of eliminating the upper echelons of Nazi power. When the paths of the soldiers, the Nazis, the woman, and the fate of the world happen to intersect at a moviehouse smack dab in the middle of Paris, all hell will break loose.

It all comes down to a chance for Tarantino to play loose with history and wage a cinephilic act of vengeance on Nazis that riffs on Carrie, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Confessions of a Trickbaby, and the actual scientific properties of nitrate film stock.

The titular squad of Basterds isn’t nearly in as much of the film as you’d expect, but that’s okay; like a master chef, Tarantino knows for the most part how to keep his ingredients in balance. There’s a masterful scene involving the occupants of a bar that would have made Alfred Hitchcock jealous, and a sequence set to David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder’s “Putting Out Fire (Cat People)” that is just magnificent.

Inglourious Basterds isn’t the utter masterpiece of Verhoeven’s Black Book (which you should go see, as soon as possible), but it’s a strange animal that makes for generally enjoyable viewing and that provides a different kind of experience for you.

It’s also a film that is using a very specific milieu (WWII) and plays out using the tropes of down n’ dirty exploitation films, which means that it’s going to offend a lot of people. Being a Tarantino film means it’s going to be experienced by a huge audience in comparison to all the component parts that comprise its foundation, and it’s much more fitting to look at these Basterds as a bigger-budget version of the Nazisploitation films of the 70s rather than going back to ‘traditional’ WWII cinema. Keep that in mind, because this film certainly is not for everyone. Though truthfully, Life is Beautiful is a much more offensive take on the Jewish experience during WWII.

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