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Cannes Day Eight: Basterds!
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 11:05 by Damon Wise
As the lights went down for Inglourious Basterds I seriously thought I might have an anxiety attack. One minute this film looked like it would never be made, the next it was in production, then it was in post and then it was in the can. And then it was in Cannes, all within the space of under a year. But the reason I felt so nervous was because I wasn't sure he would have enough time to get it right. The script was a monster; it involved an ensemble cast that would need perfect – not just good – choices, and the ending was a very, very bold gambit. To the point of madness, in fact. So I'm pleased to report that not only is Inglourious Basterds the film I wanted it to be, it really should satisfy those who want Quentin Tarantino to get back to the intricate, pop Rubik's cube stylings of Pulp Fiction, but with more subtext to chew on and deeper emotional shading.
The only cue I had to the film's finished form was a promise from producer Erica Steinberg: “It's fun,” she said. And that surprised me, because the script was very dark at times and even quite intense. But Tarantino has brought a popcorn bravado to his most ambitious movie that keeps it simply flying from set-piece to set-piece. It did check in at a formidable 2hr 40*, as promised, but it never dragged. The rotation of characters keeps the whole piece moving like clockwork; if this were a novel, it would a best-selling airport novel: what they used to call a real page-turner.
The opening 25 minutes is a nail-biter, with SS officer Colonel Landa (Christoph Waltz) visiting a remote farmhouse to check on the whereabouts of a family of missing Jews. If you enjoy this scene, the rest of the movie will literally be a blast. Waltz is phenomenal as the most hissable movie Nazi since the heyday of Anton Diffring, a cold, calculating but icily hilarious monster whose presence intertwines in key places with that of Brad Pitt's laconic Aldo Raine and Melanie Laurent's traumatised rock chic Shosanna. Tarantino told me that the opening chapter, subtitled Once Upon A Time In Nazi Occupied France, “truly feels like a spaghetti western, with WW2 iconography”, and he's right, in that it sets up a very Leone-esque triangle: after Landa wipes out Shosanna's family, he allows her to flee. So we have the Good and the Ugly, with Pitt waiting to step out of the wings as the Bad, as in bad-ass, an inventively cruel Nazi destroyer who marshalls a crack team of killers – aka the Basterds – as the Allied Forces sweep closer to victory and the end of the war.
What happens after Shosanna escapes is a series of scenes and sequences that pull you this way and that; in the end, almost everyone has the same agenda, and, unusually for a Tarantino multi-player movie, the film surges to a satisfyingly traditional climax. Along the way, his music cues make the story soar in unexpected ways, the guitar twang and pan-pipes of Morricone's off-the-peg sounds really augment the revenge theme, while the use of David Bowie's atmospheric, Giorgio Moroder-produced Cat People (Putting Out Fire) was for me, as Colonel Landa would say, a real bingo.
The final stretch is exciting and cathartic, and shows a lot of humanity from a director who hasn't ever been given much credit for having any. It is, of course, just a movie, and a very playful one at that, but Tarantino's masterstroke is to question the very idea of movie-making, how directors play God, and how a different God might have looked down at the 1940s. We're in the Empire apartment debating it now – an Empire journalist has more chance of sitting behind the camera with QT on set than they do of sitting opposite him at the press conference now occurring in bureaucratic Cannes – and my ludicrous passion for the film isn't quite shared by Sam and Chris. But I want to say this: not only wasn't I disappointed, I was a thousand per cent entertained, which, having read the script and knowing all its surprises, was wonderful in itself. If you don't subscribe to the cult of QT, it may not convert you, but if you loved the first four films and think his jones for trashy movies took him just a step too far down a self-referential cul-de-sac with Grindhouse, this one's for you. It's an adult fairytale with blood and guts, but most of all it's a masterful ride, like a lift from Stuntman Mike that leaves you shaken, stirred but feeling very, very glad to be alive.
*QT says it is actually 2hrs 27. I think the queue to get out distorted my concept of time...
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Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 12:27
I'm not THAT far behind you in the praise stakes, Damo!
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 12:43
How far is Sam behind with the praise lads?
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 12:46
So it's good then? ;)
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 13:03
praise after praise everywhere (other than that miserable bloke off TF site who hates everything). Cant wait.
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 14:49
"and think his jones for trashy movies took him just a step too far down a self-referential cul-de-sac with Grindhouse,"
that must have been a different movie that I saw them because there's a whole heap off self-referential stuff in this movie especially with the goddamn spaghetti western theme music playing throughout.
And as Chris states in his video diary, where the hell were the basterds?
There were far too many scenes of sitting around unnecessarily drawing out conversations (mainly involving Christoph Waltz who admittedly is brilliant) and not enough development of the titular group.
Plus don't even get me started on Tarantino re-writing history. Of all the fucking stupid things to throw into an otherwise okayish film. This particular point has left the whole film tasting very sour in my mouth and after seeing Antichrist last night I really have been turned off seeing senseless scenes of sadistic violence even if it does happen to Nazi's. Tarantino's skill was having strong violence only being impied. I suspect the presence of Mr Roth has corrupted him into making his own version of Hostel.
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 15:58
Who are you?
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 18:18
After watching Death Proof, I kept asking myself if Tarantino had become to confident for his own good. And thats why I just cant get over excited about this one
Posted on Wednesday May 20, 2009, 19:07
best news i've heard so far from Cannes, i'm so very very excited about this (and i havent read the script so i don't know what happens!)
i hope you're right Mr. Wise
Posted on Thursday May 21, 2009, 14:19
I have a copy of the script but I haven't read it, as I didn't want to in advance of the film. I'm kind of tempted now! Need to hold strong.
It really does seem to be a film that's dividing opinion (there's some real hate out there!) but from what you've written above, it sounds immensely entertaining.
A second mention of Cannes bureaucracy though - is it really that bad? Can you guys not get into a press conference?!