ISHMAEL N. DARO
There are few people who would dare revise the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Luckily, Quentin Tarantino is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
The 46-year-old director of such films as Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction is at it again with his latest film Inglourious Basterds. Whereas his previous efforts have been homages to crime, martial arts and blaxploitation genres, war films are a sacred genre of film few have dared to mess with. Tarantino handles the genre with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Inglourious Basterds focuses on a group of Jewish-American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines to terrorize as many Nazis as possible.
The leader of this ragtag bunch is Lieutenant Aldo Raine, a barely literate, cigar-smoking tough guy from Tennessee played by Brad Pitt. The group, known as the Basterds, go about their mission happily bashing brains in with baseball bats, cutting off scalps and carving swastikas into the foreheads of survivors.
In an alternate storyline, Shosanna Dreyfus, a young Jewish woman, escapes the murder of her family and finds a new identity in Paris as a theatre owner. When a famous German soldier becomes smitten with her, she has a unique opportunity for revenge against the Nazi high command, all of whom will be attending a film premiere in her theatre.
As both Shosanna and the Basterds try to sabotage the film premiere, the plot is helped along with lenghty scenes of dialogue typical of Tarantino films.
In fact, the most memorable scenes in Basterds take place when the characters are happily yapping away in English, French, German and even Italian.
The multi-national and multi-lingual cast makes reading subtitles just as engrossing as watching a gunfight. Much of the film deals with language, accents and nationality.
Mixing humour and violence has worked for Tarantino in the past, and he uses it effectively in Basterds. But for all its fun, the most impressive thing about the film is its complexity and intelligence.
The main villain of the film (and no, it’s not Hitler) is terrifying because he is not a caricature but rather an extremely smart and perceptive man who speaks four languages. Shosanna’s quest for vengeance is more believable because she is capable of both anger and pity. Even Hitler is made out to be more than a mere monster, despite being made to look aggressively ugly.
For cinephiles, there are dozens of references and in-jokes to other films and genres. A Tarantino film would not be complete without them. But even for the uninitiated, Basterds will be an entertaining and audacious Second World War fantasy. The fact that history is largely rewritten matters little at the end of its two-and-a-half hour runtime.
Even those who dislike Tarantino or haven’t found much to like since Pulp Fiction will be inclined to agree with the last line of the film. As Aldo Raine carves a final swastika into someone’s forehead he declares, “This might be my masterpiece.”