There is truly no greater joy than sharing a film you love with someone who has never seen it before- or at least there isn't for a rampant cinephile like me. Much debate has gone on over the merits of Quentin Tarantino in class (I've resigned myself to the fact that Andy and I are at a stalemate, and that one time he referred to him as 'a great director' will forever remain the most thrilling of small victories). Even I reckon that his contribution to the Grindhouse double bill was the weaker of the two, and I wasn't as huge a fan of Kill Bill in retrospect as I was at the time. Still, this is the man who gave us Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, (the criminally overlooked) Jackie Brown and, of course, wrote the story for my favourite film of all time. As well as having a hand in Sin City, From Dusk Til Dawn and True Romance. He's, like, untouchable.
When I found out about Inglourious Basterds, alot of things were running through my mind. Like, will it be good old fashioned Tarantino on form? Will it be another self-indulgent, "I really don't need the money" effort? Is it supposed to be spelled like that? Watching and re-watching the film since getting it on DVD last year.. the year before... 2009?... has only served to confirm my belief that this film is NOT Tarantino back on form, but on a compeltely new form altogether. The opening scene, in which Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates French dairy farmer Msr. LaPadite (Denis Menochet) about the Jewish family hiding under his floorboards is a gripping and unbearably tense start to what quickly chops and changes straight into Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), aka Aldo the Apache, and his merciless band of Jewish-American soldiers known as 'the Basterds'. The difference between the two chapters is quite unreal, as is the story of Shoshanna Dreyfuss (Melanie Laurent), a cinema owner who was part of the family under Msr. LaPadite's floor- and the only survivor. Then there's the story of British officer Archie Willcox (Michael Fassbender) and his dangerous liason with German double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger)- who happens to be not only a spy for the Allied side, but the biggest movie star in Germany.
Every story, every facet of it, involves characters plotting their own form of revenge in some way. It's alot to get your head around but the culminative chapter in the cinema ties it all together and the result is a glorious mess of rewritten history. That it is divided into chapters is typically QT and helps the running time fly by, as we trangress from one story into the next and see how they all fit together. The actual scenes themselves are notably long- while they may feature fast cuts when we get to action sequences, the actual locations themselves are very few. It allows the film and its ambition to feel a bit more 'contained'.
One thing which struck me the most was the way the film looked... It shows a progression in Tarantino's work, in that it doesn't look like a Tarantino film. Shot by long-time Olver Stone collaborator and all-round genius Robert Richardson (who also shot Kill Bill 1 & 2), it looks gloriously cinematic... as obvious as that may sound... and looks fitting of its time but with a subtle hint of modernity. According to Richardson, “It’s at times playful, at times brutal, at times wildly humorous". What appealed to me is that there is nothing CG about the film- AT ALL. Given my snobbish disdain for 'fixing things in post', Inglourious Basterds was developed as a 'purely chemical film', with 'no digital intermediate'. Tarantino's insistence that nothing of the film would rely on new technology was a gamble that paid off in dividends. The scalping scenes, even the *SPOILER ALERT* huge explosion at the end, were all to be done on camera. Sadly, Richardson and Tarantino found that the digital era had seen an erosion in chemical labs sympathetic to old school styles of film making.
Still, there are instances in which the black and white footage- which had been intended to take up a much larger proportion of the film- work well. Nation's Pride, the film-within-a-film, was supposed to have been shot in the early 1940s and the stock looking footage fits its period well. The film wears its influences on its sleeve in terms of stylistic reference. Each chapter has its own unique look, which might make it sound somewhat disjointed but actually works well as its subtle enough to only enhance what we're watching, rather than distract/detract from it. The opening chapter was to have a Sergio Leone, 'once upon a time in the west' look to it. The 'French' section of the film reflects the French New Wave and mixes pulp with propaganda. Tarantino-esque nuances still find their way in too, like our introduction to German-enlisted Basterd Hugo Stiglitz.
The sound is terrible, and it cuts a few seconds off of the end, but you get the gist- it's pure Tarantino, complete with badass voiceover by Samuel L Jackson in full Jackie Brown blaxploitation mode. It's this mixture of recognisable director's traits, bold mixing of technology and things being seen through a different (and more mature) eye than his earlier works that make this film what it is. The fact that QT also used his long-time editor Sally Menke helps maintain much of his own idiosyncracies with regards to pacing and cuts etc, as well as moving his work out of the 1990s.
Of course, given our last few weeks working with actors, the performances are crucial too. Christoph Waltz is, for me, the undeniable standout of the whole thing- a smarmy, self-righteous, interminably clever, charming creep; he is frightening in that we always know that he knows something... we just don't know what. Waltz'z Oscar for Best Supporting Actor saw a triumphant air-punch from me when I watched the ceremony, and it's even more amazing given the company that he is in.
Denis Minochet as Msr. LaPadite is not someone I've seen before but he is outstanding as he breaks down in front of Landa the 'Jew Hunter' and sacrifices his old neighbours to sprae his own family. Brad Pitt is CLEARLY having a blast as Aldo the Apache, and his over the top performance never seems to far-reaching or out of place. He's the natural leader of the Basterds, and is ably supported by surprise choice Eli Roth. Control of the scene ably flits from one character to the next and, depsite feeling a little dense at times, we'd feel short-changed if it were the opposite.
This film is Tarantino all over, but not at the same time... It's as focused as Death Proof was a glorious B-movie mess; the titular characters are barely introduced singularly; the opening sequence is a 20-minute conversation... every time we think the film is going in one direction it jerks into the other. Which is pretty much typical from a director who gave us a heist movie in which we don't actually see any of the heist itself, yes? The final line, for me, summed up how I felt about the film, especially after watching it repeatedly- and it's also sneakily how I suspect Tarantino feels about the film himself. When Lt Raine is craving a Swastika into Hans Landa's forehead- his favourite punishment for those he decides to let live- he comments confidently:
"You know somethin', Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece"
I can't disagree with that.