Hitting an emotional core

2009-10-26 00:00

WHEN it comes to Quentin Tarantino’s movies, audiences are polarised. Either he’s some kind of cinematic guru with oodles of genius in every line of dialogue and frame composition, or he’s an upstart who has no meaningful message in among quips on other movies and sudden, horrific violence.

That audiences would be polarised over his sixth film has always been a given, but this is no Pulp Fiction. Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s first film showing signs of having an emotional core. This is Tarantino’s response to Hilter’s Nazis and WW2: put them in a movie house and burn it to the ground. It is certainly no History Channel documentary. To say this Tarantino film is merely another trivia lesson in film credits would be a misperception. It’s Tarantino reacting to Hilter and the Nazis in the only way he knows how.

Broken down into five chapters, Inglourious Basterds is a stellar example of a director who can switch effortlessly between the poignant and the playful. Yes, it’s indulgent in places, but it’s permitted when someone makes a movie this good.

What is ironic is that the film’s biggest marketing ploy — Brad Pitt — is also the the subject of the least important plotline in the story. Pitt plays hillbilly Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who assembles a Dirty Dozen-esque bunch of American soldiers to get him 100 Nazi scalps each. Literally. After all, they’re “in the Nazi-killin’ bizness”. It’s amusing, and also the least compelling.

Christoph Waltz as the Nazi colonel is in many ways all that Pitt isn’t as an actor — someone who has the range of expression to keep his screen time constantly authentic. He is smooth, eloquent (he nimbly switches from French to German to English to Italian and back to English) and anecdotal. And inherently sinister.

The film hinges primarily on the story of Shosanna (the remarkable Mélanie Laurent), a young French Jewish woman who witnesses the slaughter of her family and escapes to Paris, where she gets a job in a local cinema (just in case you forgot this was a Tarantino film). Laurent’s ability to portray her vehement angst below the surface of her cold facade (as a Jew in hiding) could easily be overlooked, but it is key to the emotive unfolding of the plot. Both her and Waltz have, until now, been unknown in the U.S.

No doubt their careers will take new courses from here on. Another surprise performance is that by a charming Diane Kruger (Troy) who plays German spy Bridget von Hammersmark.

True to Tarantino form, the violence plays less of a role in the pursuit of some moral standpoint and is simply the epitome of cool. Additionally he’s called the mis-spellings in the title “an artistic stroke” (whatever that means), which gets up a lot of people’s noses.

But there’s no denying that this guy knows how to keep an audience attentive and indulge his fetish for the film industry at the same time.

In the end, it’s quirky, playful art put together by someone who understands cinema storytelling and executes it sublimely. ****

 

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