Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A to B Back and Forth Review: Inglorious Basterds, Part II

Yesterday, Kozy and I started with our analysis of Inglorious Basterds, posting Part I of our back and forth conversation. So yeah, read that first. Today we conclude with Part II.


Yola Reed!

You have an amazing family history -- your dad kicks ass!!

I totally agree the use of the German and French languages and dialect added a sense of realism to an otherwise ridiculous story. It also made it tougher for me to realize that Inglorious Basterds is in fact an absurdist fable and a not a film to be taken seriously. I suppose there are some drawbacks to knowing nothing going into a movie. Perhaps if I had known this fact I would have approached the film differently.

From what I have read, Tarantino gives many other blunt hints to the audience that the whole thing is wink-wink. Apparently there are several obvious translation gaffes and of course the film’s title is misspelled, a joke that was totally lost on me as I did not even blink an eye at seeing these words spelled incorrectly. You should see the emails I read every day at work by non-native English speakers and you will realize that overseas, anything goes (especially when it comes to spelling).

I am sure these details, which Tarantino relishes, were lost in many European countries. Last night I was out to dinner with a table full of Italians for Tapas. I asked if anyone had seen Basterds yet, and my co-worker Silvano said that he had caught it when he was home visiting family in southern Italy. I tried to set him up for a laugh by asking what he thought of the Basterds' Italian in the climactic movie house scene, leading him with a Pitt-esque “Bo-germ-o”. But Silvano didn’t hit it out of the park. Rather he said, “yes, Brad Pitt and the other Basterds had a few lines in Italian. It was very nice.”

Very nice? What the hell was he talking about?

He then went on to explain that he had seen the dubbed Italian version, the only one available in Italy. So I guess Italian voiceover actors are indeed not that talented at doing a hackneyed Italian accent. And the American boorishness you referred to was lost as well. This same dubbing is done for nearly all American films released in France and Germany.
Types in stereo

Of course from my viewpoint, the movie house finale was yet another great scene for Waltz as the "Jew Hunter" who will garner Oscar talk, and could very likely win. I totally agree with you and your co-worker that his performance is masterful. Again I also agree that Waltz plays an incredibly sophisticated Nazi. You said, “He had more elegance in his fingernail than all the Basterds combined. And maybe that's OK.” My response to your question is no, it’s not OK.

In's review, I found a quote that rung true for me. In his Basterds review, Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells wrote about a scene earlier in the film, where this same Nazi elegance is portrayed, this time by Richard Sammel as Sgt. Werner Rachtman. “The German soldier, despite cursing out his tormentors as 'Jew dogs,' behaves like a man of honor, accepting a brutal and painful death rather than ratting out his comrades. In Sammel's brief performance, he depicts the German as a man of intelligence and perception with a certain regular-Joe decency, while Raine and Donowitz come off as butt-ugly sadists.”

After reading that commentary I couldn’t help but think back to other sadist characters created by Tarantino. Immediately my mind turned to Pulp Fiction and the sadistic interchanges between Zed and Maynard that serve to only temporarily interrupt the rape and torture of Marsellus Wallace. For me to so quickly draw a comparison between Zed commanding Maynard to ‘bring out the gimp’ and Raine beckoning the “Bear Jew” is very unflattering. But sadly, the comparison is easy to make.

Over the past few days I have given a great deal of thought to Inglorious Basterds. When we do these reviews, I always like to think about what my exact reaction was when I walked out of the cinema. This time, I remember walking out after the tension filled final act with a smile on my face but doubts in my mind as to what I had just watched and just how exactly I felt about it. In the end, we all bring our own experiences (and baggage) into everything we do. In this particular case, I perhaps have too much baggage to take this premise as lightly as Tarantino. I remember thinking that I would definitely re-watch Basterds when I have a version with English subtitles. Now, after further thought, I am not so sure I am going to do that.

While I do not think that this movie tarnishes Tarantino’s well-respected (and well deserved) reputation, it does make me wonder what exactly he was thinking this film's reception would be. He is a man that clearly lives without any sacred cows, which is admirable in many ways. But this time around his history has the potential to cause real damage. And to that I cannot support.

- Kozy


Bernjango, Brad!

I am concerned that you find yourself laughing at the e-mails you receive at work that are written in poor English. The reason I am concerned because it likely means that nearly every Spanish e-mail I write is drawing snickers or worse. There was one such moment when I wrote to one of my company's VPs. I showed the note to my girlfriend and she said, "Well, you probably shouldn't have used that word. He's going to think you're hitting on him." Live and learn...

What a shame that anyone allowed this film to be overdubbed! I understand that some films benefit from overdubbing. Nobody is going to say that a Disney cartoon needs to be seen in its original language. But the language was the most earnest thing about this picture. (By the way, my favorite of the "Italians" was easily DeCocco, though he didn't utter a word.) But the silly humor brought in during that scene was what really gave the film its final push. The horrific violence didn't do much for me, I guess. Then again, since the violence was being inflicted upon the Nazi leadership, horrific is probably not the right word.

So what to finally declare about this film? As it did for you, this movie tumbled around in my head for days after I left the theater. It's been a month and, really it still hasn't found a place to land. There are a few things of which I'm pretty sure. First of all, the movie was about 40 minutes too long. I realize QT wanted to take his time building tension whenever possible. But since we've established that none of this is real, how tension-filled can it be, really? Hitchcock's most fraught scenes were unnerving because there was something at stake. You really thought a person was in jeopardy. If these aren't real people, it takes the air out of the balloon a bit.
The most real character, but still a long way from Memorex

My end result is that this is more a series of vignettes than a film that is supposed to mean anything. It's a proof of concept. What's the concept? That QT can get away with anything. He obviously thinks he can do whatever he wants. The thing is, he's absolutely right. Inglorious Basterds his is second-highest grossing film to date. The IMDb says it's the 47th best movie in history. Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars, and Rotten Tomatoes has it at 88%. It is a smashing success by any measure. He took a huge gamble making a movie like this, and it has paid off for him. I must give him some credit. In the history of film, there's never been another director who could have pulled this off.

I have come to the conclusion that any opinion about this film is valid. A teenage boy who finds the violence exhilarating is not wrong. Someone drawn to the poetic tale of the Jewish girl's plight and vengeance is not wrong. Someone who finds the ridiculousness of the movie hilarious is not wrong. Someone who revels in seeing the Nazi's get their comeuppance is not wrong. Your condemnation of this movie is not wrong. It's the opposite of a blank slate, but at the same time leaves the whole range of interpretation and feeling to the viewer.
There sure are a lot of smokers in this picture

This is my least favorite Tarantino movie. But I love everything else he's made. In many ways, I thought it was a fantastic picture, and there's no questioning that it has sparked a more lofty conversation between us than anything else we've AtoB'd. I may have to see it again just to give myself the peace of mind of really knowing my complete reaction. For now, I can say that I think it's vastly overrated, but QT deserves a helluva lot of credit for pushing the limit.

Un abrazo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bonjour amigos,
I tried, unsuccessfully, to post a comment to your first installment but here I go again:
First, though I passed it by as "need-not-be-viewed", you've whetted my appetite - and after all, that's what reviews are supposed to do, so you've scored.
Second, your comments remind me that any event or historical happening lends itself to media interpretation and treatment (history books, novels, cartoons, films, etc.). Thus Christopher Columbus' exploits can be told, factually or as fiction, or with bias, and those who experience it can comment that it's accurate, twisted, funny, cruel and whatnot. It's remarkable that by now the Holocaust also is already "treatable" as cinema in multi-languages and subtitles and with cinematic device fantasies and misspelled Basterds. "Tant pis", as the French would say. But don't expect that from the typical serious Holocaust survivors or their devoted offspring, for they still can only tolerate the grim and daunting tales of bad Nazis, butchered Jews and deep soul-rending regret. Your description hints to me that the Holocaust is now probably already close to being featured in a comic strip, verdad?
Anyhow, I love your dialog and will perhaps write my own review after I pay to go see it.
So there.
El Viejo