Thursday, September 2, 2010

Let us now praise classy huns.


Christoph Waltz as Standartenf├╝hrer Landa

I watched Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" the other day. It is an interesting film, though not one that gripped me - the interest being in the deconstruction. Tarantino has made a "Macaroni Combat" film. This was a new genre to me and while I have always enjoyed Spaghetti Westerns, I don't think the war movie equivelant holds much appeal.

I enjoyed "Inglorious Basterds" though I don't think it will get a second viewing - it's a very slick piece of work, beautifully photographed and with some very professional acting. Christoph Waltz is superb as chatty, charming Jew hunter Hans Landa. I was tickled pink when I discovered he had won an Oscar for the role, beating Christopher Plummer - a man who has got a lot of wear out of a German uniform over the years.

Spaghetti Westerns are typically set in the borderlands between Mexico and the United States, but they are generally deliberately vague as to the details of time and place, characters are often abbreviated, we need to know very little about the man with no name to understand his purpose within the tale. The Spaghetti Western has an abstract nature and is entirely self contained, it needs no context to work as a story. Basterds on the other hand, is too chatty by half (the excellant Waltz aside), filling in details of time and place, rooting itself in the particular all of which makes the flatness of its characters all the more apparent. Simple characters are not a flaw in a film that is structured to take advantage of their simplicity, like 300 or Once upon a Time in the West for example, unfortunately Basterds is not that film.

The film itself is a revenge fantasy - a common plot for Spaghetti Westerns, but one that seems too petty to really work for a Second World War film; and this I think is one of my major problems with the piece. There is a gleefullness to the violence that is quite adolescent - a revelling in barbarity that prompted a friend of mine to sum up the film as follows "Take eight Jews, build a better Nazi, profit". I've also heard Basterds compared to the war comics of the 1970s and 1980s, but I don't think the comparison is fair. War comics certainly revelled in violence, but they also focused on courage, self sacrifice, friendship and a sense of things not done. Their simple and not unworthy morality is completely lacking from the "Basterds" - Lord Peter Flint never scalped a fallen foe.

Is "Inglorious Basterds" worth seeing - yes, it's certainly better than many films out there. It is beautifully shot and there are some performances that repay study. There are also plenty of interesting nuggets for film buffs.

Does it have anything of worth to say about the Second World War? I doubt it.

If you want to see a better film, I would recommend Elim Klimov's "Come and See" or Sam Peckinpah's "Cross of Iron" - films that are far more eloquent about savagery than "Inglorious Basterds" could ever hope to be.

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