Paul Lister’s review published on Letterboxd:
"You know somethin', Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece."
Recently I have been shitting on Quentin Tarantino because of my dislike for his last feature 'Django Unchained'. Don't get me wrong there is a lot to like about the film but it also plays to Tarantino's worst traits. But that is by the by, what I am saying is that the frustrations I had with the film in fact had some effect on my feelings on him as a filmmaker and the body of work of his that I have more often than not really loved. I had to dig into the memory banks (and my blu-ray collection) to slowly disprove my late developing theory that Tarantino was now a filmmaker I had grown out of and thankfully it has proven that on the whole his filmography prior to 'Django' largely remains how I remembered it.
My thoughts and feelings on 'Inglourious Basterds' were clear from the start, I remember coming out of the cinema and wanting nothing more but to head straight back in. Whilst I didn't do this the fact remained, Tarantino had delivered, big time! The film is QT's own brand of revisionist history, although that sounds derogatory to my mind, it is still clear that this isn't World War II history as we know it.
'Basterds' is split into five chapters that slowly reveal a singular story but also work as self contained stories too. The episodic nature of the film which Tarantino was familiar with through 'Kill Bill' is an ideal format for his work, the way Tarantino writes dialogue and monologue really gives these chapters and ebb and flow. They are not short segments, in fact they are deliberately paced to allow the words on the page to slowly seep their way into your consciousness. The elongated monologues also work in someways to keep you off guard, with numerous scenes featuring twists that catch you off guard and increase the stakes and tension involved in the scene. The first of these moments takes place in the first chapter.
Chapter One: Once Upon a Time...In Nazi Occupied France.
"Au revoir, Shosanna!"
The opening chapter of the film introduces us to 'The Jew Hunter', the loquacious, multilingual SS Colonel Hans Landa (Waltz). The sequence revolves around Landa talking to French dairy farmer, Perrier LaPadite (Denis Ménochet). Whilst never a casual visit, Landa comes across as charming and appreciative of the hospitality. He displays his impressive language skills by switching from French to English midway through the conversation which is itself a genius play by QT as the whole mood of the scene changes. Landa soon quizzes LaPadite on what he knows of him and why we thinks he may be there. The switch I alluded to early then comes into play as the camera pans down under the floorboards to reveal the very Jews Landa is in fact hunting, it again changes the mood and tone of the scene in a dramatic way. The rhythm in which Tarantino plays the scene is like a piece of music and it comes in for a tremendous climax when Landa again reverts back to French. But one thing comes of this sequence that sets in motion the rest of the film, a young Jew by the name of Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) escapes that house, with Landa failing to pull the trigger.
Chapter 2: Inglourious Basterds
"You probably heard we ain't in the prisoner-takin' business; we in the killin' Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin'."
The next sequence plays differently to the first as it opens up to more than one location in it's introduction of the Basterds. Led by the Nazi killing son of a bitch Lt. Aldo Raine, the Basterd are out for one thing and one thing alone, killing Nazi's. Aldo expects scalps, and a lot of them and he has the best team to get him those scalps. There are two characters of importance that are introduced - also Adolf Hitler, never heard of him - they are 'The Bear Jew' (Eli Roth) the infamous man who loves to take a baseball bat to Nazi skulls, the other man is German Nazi killer, Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger). We learn through a neat little flashback that Stiglitz has killed a fair few Gestapo soldiers, leading the Basterds to seek out his services. Of course it goes without saying that 'The Bear Jew' is introduced doing what he loves best and the unflinching violence of the film comes out to play as he bashes a Nazi's head clean in. This chapter is a great introduction to the Basterds but it isn't quite up to the standards of the first chapter.
Chapter 3: German Night in Paris
Chapter 3 is possibly the weakest chapter of the film but it in itself is a fine piece. It opens up the film and slowly introduces the plot of the film that will develop through the next few chapters. It also enthuses the film with a love for cinema through Shosanna (posing as Emmanuelle Mimieux) who owns a cinema in Paris. It is one of my favourite elements of the film, characters talking about films, classic film posters dotted around streets, making reference to German cinema of old and German propaganda film making of Joseph Goebbels. It also introduces us to German 'hero' Frederik Zoeller (Daniel Bruhl), who through his love for cinema because smitten with Shosanna and insists to Goebbels to hold the premiere of the film staring him and about him, 'A Nations Pride'. This is four years after Shosanna escaped the clutches of Landa but in another of the films great moments she is inadvertently put right in his lap, whether he knows it is her or not is up for debate but the scene with the Strudel is agonising, Laurent so brilliantly plays her part as if buttoned up from the inside, her seems about to burst until the moment Landa takes his leave, the sense of relief is palpable as Shosanna clambers for some air. She has found herself within the lions den and she isn't about to let the Germans off lightly. The screening of 'A Nations Pride' is going to set the place a light, literally.
Chapter 4: Operation Kino
"Say "auf Wiedersehen" to your Nazi balls."
The best chapter of the film see's Tarantino return to the long form sequence that ebbs and flows, changing course on more than one occasion. It begins with Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) receiving orders for Operation Kino. His specialist set of skills as a film reviewer will come in handy as one of the escorts to German film actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) whom he is to meet along with the Basterds in a tavern where Nazi occupation is thin on the ground. Of course it is not to be the case and the group meet up with von Hammersmark with a group of drunken Germans. What complicates matters is one of them detects an iffy accent on Hicox only for he and Stiglitz's to deal with the situation. But here is where the first kicker comes in. A German officer is lurking in the back of the tavern, he detects the false accent too and decides to join the group, at this point it is clear that all is not well but QT teases us and plays a long game. That long game is then turned on its head again with another slip up, this time Hicox makes a three finger signal not of Nazi origin, it gives him away. What happens next is a cathartic release from QT and his trademark violence comes firing on all cylinders. The chapter doesn't end there however as we set up the final chapter by giving the remaining Basterds Italian covers, bringing hilariously inept results in the process. What I will remark on for this chapter is that I actually believe it may be the crowning glory in Tarantino's crown, it is perfectly crafted, the dialogue is mesmeric, Diane Kruger is an absolute dream and Stiglitz's burning rage is wonderfully realised. Oh, and Michael Fassbender is introduced to the world of cinema - even if he was know to some previously to this.
Chapter 5: Revenge of the Giant Face
"My name is Shosanna Dreyfus and THIS is the face... of Jewish vengeance!"
The final chapter then follows on from one of QT's best moments and begins with the most awesome montage I can think of, bringing out David Bowie's 'Cat People (Putting Out Fire)' a mere forty years before it was brought to the world, because after all this is a Quentin Tarantino World War II film, where anything goes. Frankly seeing Laurent dolling herself up to the sounds of this song is one of the most stylish elements of the whole film and highlights the stunning work of Robert Richardson who lenses the film to perfection, the compositions are sublime, the camera movement fluid, it may well be the best looking Tarantino film in my mind. The story concludes with Hitler and Goebbels attending the premier of the film with Zoller who is getting uncomfortable watching his heroics on screen. The Basterds and von Hammersmark hilariously try to get into the screening only for Landa to sniff out the distinct lack of Italian (I love the whole dumb Americans who feel no need to learn another language and Pitt, Roth and Omar Doom are so funny at this moment). Fuck basically it all goes down in this last chapter and interestingly we see Landa make his true intentions known, he wants his name known as the man who ended the war but he also wants to get away scott free, as if Aldo would let him. The most preposterous elements of the film occur in this last chapter too, I cannot deny my absolute love for Roth and Doom absolutely obliterating Hitler, it's almost like wish fulfillment at the end of the day. But it is Pitt who has the last word on proceedings, we all know Landa isn't getting away scott free and that uniform isn't going to be there forever, so he gives him that one thing he will never be able to run from. As for QT he gives us something we actively want to come back to. 'Inglorious Basterds' was always a film I loved but I never gave it it's proper due respect before today, maybe 'Pulp Fiction' is still a peak that he will never top but 'Basterds' stands as his Kilimanjaro to 'Pulps. Everest.
*Apologies for this review being all over the place, missing plot details I am sure etc etc. I honestly don't know what came over me, I was only planning a couple of short paragraphs!