Inglourious Basterds

(Quentin Tarantino, 2009) Tarantino made the individual scenes of Inglourious Basterds so strong that many viewers missed the forest for the trees, appreciating only moments with little sense of what all those marvelous moments amounted to. It’s understandable — Christoph Waltz’s epicurean Nazi is distracting in all the best ways. Slapping us with Brad Pitt’s shovel-faced cartoonery doesn’t seem fair after we’ve been lulled by Col. Landa’s dulcet doings. But the Basterds’ yahooing is crucial to Tarantino’s take-down of nationalistic filmmaking, including that of his compatriots. Pitt et al. are nauseating morsels of onscreen American exceptionalism, the kind we’ve been holding our noses and eating out of Hollywood’s bowl for decades. Distilling everything we hate about patriotic filmmaking into the smirk of an A-lister who’s made his own share of jingoistic dreck wasn’t even genius on Tarantino’s part. It was simply necessary to theme. His Basterds are contrapuntal clarions calling our attention to the film’s other examples of nationalistic art: the mountain movies of Fanck and Pabst, the Nazi output of the Goebbels’ machine. The deadly politics of film is the forest that argues against critics’ accusations of indulgence — Michael Fassbender’s film-critic lieutenant and Melanie Laurent’s cinema-owning avenger unite with Pitt to expose all forms of propaganda in one big, tsking cultural dissolve. If the message offends (and, ironically, it sure seems to), focus instead on the way Tarantino deploys favourite devices with seamless sophistication; all that talking and foot-fetishizing finally have cause. – Ranylt Richildis

(Originally published as part of In Review Online’s The 100 Best Films of the Decade feature, in February 2010.)

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