RogerBW's Blog

Inglourious Basterds 20 December 2022

2009 war, dir. Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent: IMDb / allmovie. Dakka dakka dakka aieee for you Tommy ze var is over.

This is Tarantino's love letter to Second World War films – but not the good ones, the cheap rubbish ones. Fair enough. Even its title comes from another film, Quel maledetto treno blindato (1978), released in English as The Inglorious Bastards – which was basically a faded copy of The Dirty Dozen (1967). So almost every scene here is familiar, in the sense that I've seen it before in a different war film (usually less gruesomely mounted 'cos we're edgy grown-ups now). None of this is of itself a bad thing; Tarantino's nudging me in the ribs and saying that I'm one of the cool kids like him for spotting the references.

And then the curtain slips, because after Shoshanna the cinema operator reveals to her lover the plan to lock the doors and burn up the Nazi leadership there to watch the premiere of a new propaganda film, she mentions that this will be even easier because of the collection of nitrate prints in the cinema. Which makes the point in itself: this is something that will assist in the fire and explosion. But Tarantino doesn't trust you to have been actually listening to the dialogue, so he has an indulgent cutaway to explain for the hard of thinking what nitrate stock is, and that it's particularly inflammable.

In other words, the whole thing is a fake, and that friendly arm round the shoulder is coated in the salesman's schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). You're not supposed to spot the references; you're just supposed to spot that they are references, and if you don't they'll be clearly signalled to let you catch up.

What Tarantino does do effectively, though, is create tension, in three separate scenes in which person A could explode into violence at any moment and person B is hoping they don't. There's also something to be read here about the impossibility of relationships across power disparities, though not very much.

But the really blatant message came in the climactic sequences. We've been following the various flawed heroes as they do gory violence. We've been, in theory, cheering for them, because after all they're the heroes, and they're going up against the Nazis, though nost of the Nazis they go up against are just common soldiers rather than architects of atrocity. Then we flip to the Nazi propaganda film, with one sniper shooting hundreds of Americans, and the Nazis cheering, and clearly we're not supposed to be happy about that. Then it's back to the heroes shooting hundreds of Nazis in diegetic reality. Yes, Quentin, I do get it, that it's very easy to get an audience worked up with blood and guts, whether it's the "good guys" or the "bad guys" doing it, and that in itself is something of a problem. (But then there's your entire career apart from this, which suggests that your heart isn't really in it.)

Also a whole lot of vaguely creepy and sexualised violence against women, of course.

There are some good ideas here, but I feel Tarantino desperately needed someone to tell him to stop indulging himself and get back to te hard work of making a damn film.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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