Absolutely brilliant filmmaking. It might sound cliched, hell it definitely is a cliche, but Tarantino is truly a one of a kind, imitated but never duplicated, a master filmmaker. Tarantino’s version of WWII and how it ended is not be historically accurate, but I could not care less. He uses Nazi-occupied France as the set for his fictional story. The story has three threads. Of course, we have the Basterds. If all you know about this movie is from the trailers, you might think that this is what the story is about. Killing Nah-zees! The other storyline follows Shosanna, who witnessed her family’s execution and now operates a Cinema in Paris. Last but not least, we have a joint British-American plot to eliminate the top Nazi command and win the war with the help of the Basterds.
Moving down from the plot level we get a pure unique Tarantino movie. Long stretches of dialogue ranging from the breezy flirtatious to the equivalent of verbal sparring. Topics of conversation are as mundane as a card game, as obscure as the films of the 1930’s Germany and sometimes very informative (did you know 1930’s era nitrate film is extremely flammable?). The best and most memorable of these long conversations constitutes “chapter 1” of the film. In it, a Nazi colonel is talking to a French dairy farmer who might be hiding Jews in his small home. The conversation is long, intense and so perfectly setup and performed that it makes for a brilliant short film. I love how much Tarantino’s love of film making shines through his films and this one is no exception. Film, as in film reel, is at the heart of Shosanna’s story and her cinema is the epicenter of the film’s climax. We get references, sometimes subtle sometimes explicit to movies. Some scenes are a homage to similar ones from older films, others seem to call on a particular mood or another. He combines all that and picks and chooses his genres as he pleases, here we get film noir (femme fatale included), a WWII movie, a revenge story, a cartoon and a western of sorts. At no point does it feel forced or artificial, he simply elevates these genres into a an art film all his own. When I saw it for the second time, I took the chance to more adequately appreciate how good his shots are. We get lots of close ups (faces, makeup, feet, food,…), a camera that is very fluid but not dizzying. One particulary memorable shot is of Shosanna in a slinky red dress standing in front of a circular window, slowly dragging on her cigarette with her reflection in the mirror and a Nazi red flag right outside. He uses Bowie’s “Putting Up The Fire” to score this scene. So perfect, so fucking beautiful.
This post has gone on a bit longer than normal, but I cannot stop before mentioning the actors. All did an excellent job (Eli Roth can act pretty well). The best of the bunch was Christoph Waltz, as Hans Landa, the Nazi colonel who terrorizes the farmer in Chapter 1 and who dominates every damn scene he is in. He smooth, funny, sharp and terrifying. If this dude does not get at least an Oscar nod and hopefully an award it would be a terrible injustice. I cannot even see a strudel or a glass of milk without thinking about his threatening smirk.