Sunday, October 11, 2009

Inglourious Basterds: Of Historical Inaccuracies and other Irrelevancies

History-writing, as Madame E pointed out to me (and the rest of my class) has more to do with ideology than accuracy. While historians are increasingly becoming aware of that, movies still seem to value “factual accuracy” (if there ever was any) over all else not realising how much of a role the ideology and entertainment value play in the way in which such movies are made. Cinematic liberties can only extend so far when dealing with historical issues. Then, one fine day, Quentin Tarantino comes along and throws the rule book out of the window.

With “Inglourious Basterds” Tarantino gives us his best work since “Pulp Fiction.” The result of 10 years of labour, it is basically one gigantic “Fuck You!” to both, History and the English language. Rich in both, ideas and movie references, Basterds is not merely a spaghetti western merged with a war movie. It is so much more than that. Tarantino takes a fair few risks with Basterds and explores territories that are a far cry from his usual comfort zone. Perhaps, in many ways, for me, this was his most intellectually stimulating work, though not necessarily his most intelligent. Even with 20 minutes of blood and gore edited from the original in the theatrical version released in India, this is one movie meant to be seen on the big screen.

Basterds has a smart plot and the story is told in chapters similar to “Kill Bill.” However, there is much more meat to the story here than any of his previous movies. One might argue that no one really goes to a Tarantino movie for the plot, which is true. But the fact that there is one, and a fairly ingenious one as this, is only a good thing. I do not want to give out the plot here. There is Wikipedia for that. What I do want to discuss is the climax. Now, without giving away the details, it is safe to say that Tarantino breaks all the rules when it comes to concluding the movie. His conclusion is audacious, unabashed, unthinkable and for that reason, according to me, simply brilliant. Tarantino chooses to take a deliberately retrospective look at history which leads to some shocking results. The symbolism and the subtext left me thinking for a long while after. It is the conclusion of the tale that makes Basterds such a heady concoction. You think you know how it will all play out. You think you know how it will end. But you don’t. That is where the sheer genius of the film lies.

Another master stroke of Tarantino lies in his execution of scenes. It is extremely heartening to see how much he has grown as a film maker from “Pulp Fiction” when it comes to creating atmosphere and tension. He summons all the tools at his disposal: the art, the actors, the sound, and the background score; to create scenes that strike the perfect note and make you laugh and squirm uncomfortably in your seat at the same time. The opening scene and the bar sequence were simply fantastic. It is an excellent return to form after “Kill Bill, Vol. 2” where the pivotal scenes between Bill and the Bride were just disappointing, even yawn inducing. The dialogues were a clunky mess and he just failed to create the right atmosphere there. With Basterds, he makes up for it, and more.

Basterds is also Tarantino’s best independent script so far. The movie is replete with references: from old classics like Cindrella, King Kong and Wizard of Oz to propaganda movies, war movies, westerns and more. Certain parts of it even reminded me of Cinema Paradiso though I’m not sure if it was intended or not. His dialogues are devilishly sly in places; his characters are extremely well sketched out. In terms of technique, the film is par extraordinaire. The detailing in the art, the make up, the costumes and the cinematography is simply breathtaking. It has all the style and flair of any other Tarantino movie.

Lastly, every Tarantino movie has at least one standout performance and Basterds is no exception. Enough has been said about Christoph Waltz’s performance. Just give him the damn Oscar already! In Hans Landa, he gives us the most interesting villains I have seen in recent times. He is sharp, diabolical, cold, and logical and is armed with most of the best lines in the movie. His performance to this movie is what the combined performances of Jackson and Travolta were to Pulp Fiction. His mere presence on the screen sent a chill down my spine. Next in line is Melanie Laurent, the French beauty who gives a fantastic performance as the runaway Jew out for revenge. She looks ethereal throughout and outshines all the remaining actors. Eli Roth also pitches in a brilliant performance as the Bear Jew. With barely four lines in the entire movie, he leaves a remarkable impact as a sociopathic baseball bat wielding Basterd. Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger are both impressive. Daniel Bruhl perfectly captures the underlying aggression of his character.

All in all, Basterds is the most ambitious and audacious World War II movie I have ever seen. It is a unique movie I think, even for Tarantino fans. It is powerful, effective and (literally) mind-blowing fun! Tarantino re-imagines the past and comes up with a solution that is satisfying and disturbing for that precise reason. A part of me even wished that the climax was based on fact and that is what, I think, Tarantino sought out to achieve. The implications of the end he has to offer are simply insane and warrant a second viewing. As far as the “facts” are concerned, history be damned!


  1. Loved the review. And the movie too, of course. I wish there were more movies like this one. I mean, after watching innumerable movies based on events before, after and during The Holocaust...there is this angst that's built up inside many of us. For me, I think Tarantino has (to an extent) just eased that angst out through graphic visualization of what we all wished to see in the end of all those other movies even while (with a heavy heart) expecting events to unfold in a factually accurate fashion...Tarantino fooled us this time and it felt awesome...