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A mature Tarantino rocks the cinema with Basterds
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A mature Tarantino rocks the cinema with Basterds

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Inglourious Basterds Opening August 21

Call Inglourious Basterds what you like: metafilm, reflexive film, self-referential film. Call it a black comedy, a war movie, or a suspense thriller. Whatever you call it, Quentin Tarantino's latest insists on taking itself seriously in spite of a his usual biting wit, savvy satirical edge, and look-what-I-can-do showmanship. Oh yeah, and the pervasive violence. The film works, too. It's all the fun we expect from Tarantino, but with a sly intellectual underpinning.

Within the narrative of Inglourious Basterds, the Germans are premiering Nation's Pride in Paris. Nation's Pride is a fictional Joseph Goebbels propaganda film depicting a Nazi war hero fending off 300 Allied troops all by himself. The Nazi war hero, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), falls for Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), a Jewish girl masquerading as the French owner of a movie theater. Zoller uses his newfound influence as a self-described Nazi Sergeant York to get the premier moved to Shosanna's venue. Shosanna and her hot black lover Marcel (Jacky Ido) decide to send the gathering of elite Nazi leadership a little propaganda of their own in the form of their own film clandestinely spliced into Nation's Pride's third reel along with a couple of other surprises thrown in.

Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt as we've never seen him before) is a snuff-snorting Tennessee redneck with a passionate dislike for "GNAT-zeez" and a down-home sense of humor with a serious black streak. I get the feeling he's the real WWII version of Sergeant York. Lieutenant Raine leads a team of Jewish commandos into Nazi-occupied France on a mission to spread terror through the ranks of the Third Reich's smug military. Along the way they scalp a few hundred Nazi heads, crack a few more, and wind up, of course, at the aforementioned screening of Nation's Pride.

Tarantino is interested in how film creates and/or destroys history and all the resulting Orwellian political ramifications. This would be an ambitious aim in itself but Tarantino doesn't stop there. He also, as is his familiar modus operandi, forces the viewer to consider revenge fantasy - more precisely, how does film work as revenge fantasy, and can this be productive? Think Kill Bill on an international level - "Skewer Fuhrer," if you prefer. And believe me, the gravitas is exponentially more intense when the revenge is on behalf of an entire culture, Jewish folks, and based on historical events, WWII, instead of between a couple of morally challenged and disgruntled fictional lovers, the Bride and Bill.

This is a more mature Tarantino. There is violence: baseball-bat-swinging, skull-pulping, bullet-riddling, head-scalping violence. But the violence is more measured and less salacious. The characters are flat for the most part, but it doesn't matter because the situations are absurd and the tension is exhausting, coming in relentless waves. Tarantino is still a show-off, but he's now a show-off with a little restraint - welcome restraint as far as this critic is concerned.

The cinematography is excellent. Robert Richardson got his big break working with Oliver Stone in the 1980s. He's won two Oscars for his work on JFK and Scorsese's The Aviator. I won't be surprised if he garners another nomination for his work on Inglourious Basterds. The landscapes of the French countryside are as gorgeous as the interior shots of the art deco movie theater. Even Tarantino's annoying penchant for '70s-esque garish graphics can't detract from the expert photography.

The beautifully photographed reflexive scenes inside the theater pay homage to such vaunted filmmakers as Dziga Vertov, Alfred Hitchcock, the French New Wavers, and David Lynch, all the while looking 100% original. This is filmmaking about the power of the cinema, and Tarantino surprised me with this purposefully crafted work.

Brad Pitt steals another film. He just gets better looking and better at his craft with every movie. The fact that he recently repeated his stance on marriage equality (he and Angie will tie the knot only when marriage is available to everyone) only makes him sexier.

I'm not sure about the ultimate value of flicks that obsess over violence and revenge fantasy. In fact, as with most Tarantino films, I'm not sure if Tarantino is pandering or making serious films. I'm pretty sure he's doing both. One thing you can't argue and that I respect completely is that Tarantino loves making movies. He isn't one of those exhausted, tortured souls who act like making movies is a burden. Tarantino makes movies with gusto and charm and when he talks about the cinema you can see the excitement in his eyes. Even if his movies make me queasy and uncomfortable, I have to love a guy who loves the movies.

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