Monday, October 12, 2009
Tarantino comes of age with 'Inglourious Basterds'
Quentin Tarantino has generally been an irritating film director because he is so smart-alecky. But with 'Inglourious Basterds' he puts his immense talent as well as his many quirks to good use. He uses his knowledge of film history and of history in general to tell a story that is more in the nature of a wish fulfilment. It tells a historical tale as one would have liked it to end in one's imagination. In the case of this film, it is what perhaps many Jews would have liked to imagine the end of Hitler to be, especially that of a Jew whos is also a film buff. Tarantino handles the most tricky issue with sensitivity, poise and utmost seriousness.
One of the many questions that has often been asked is as to why the Jews were so passive through the Holocaust operation? Except for the Warsaw ghetto rebellion, there was not much of a resistance. In this film, Tarantino shows what the Jews would have liked history to be to counter the passivity through this imaginary history.
The character of Shosana Dreyfus, who escapes death and who is the owner of a cinema hall in Paris -- yes, there are these Tarantino's cavalier improbabilities which he throws at the viewers without compunction and care for logic -- plots the end of the Nazi leadership in a way that only a movie hall owner who knows a thing or two about film history can.
Tarantino builds into the story an argument about the virtues of the respective film histories of Germans and Hollywood. The ordinary German is of course aware of the achievements of German film art as in the case of G.W. Pabst, but what dominates German film of the Nazi era is the grand propaganda film as conceived by Joseph Goebbels, who believes that the true peak of German film will be achieved through the Nazi propaganda film. Leni Riefenstal, the high priestess of the Nazi propaganda film hovers on the neon sign of the movie hall.
In the meanwhile, Shosana, who is forced to show a Nazi film about a German soldier, a true story, and whose protagonist posted in Paris is in love with Shosana, plots the finale.
Tarantino builds up the film on the basis of an architecture of the narrative of a novel. The film is divided into five chapters. Apparent order is imposed on the film through this device.
There is also the element of Jews hitting back at the Nazis, a savage retaliation to the savage Nazi assault. It is an imaginary history that Tarantino is constructing but which does not trivialise history as much as it shows the agony of the victims of history -- in this case the Jews -- and their sense of acute helplessness. The only way they can have their revenge is in the imagination. Tarantino builds a palpably logical imaginary narrative which delivers some sort of poetic justice.
Tarantino achieves this with admirable verve.
The clinching line in the dialogue of the movie is that 'rumours are revealing' and that facts only hide things. So, he takes the leap of imagination to tell a story which is not factual but which is emotionally true.
There is enough blood as in all Tarantino films. It is something like the violence in the Senecan tragedies. In this case at least it seems that there is no other to way to tell this tale of bestiality with some amount of emotional credibility.
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