Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Fantasia Film Fest Review: Inglorious Basterds
Inglorious Basterds (2009) imdb Fantasia
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
(according to imdb Tom Tykwer helped with the German.)
When they announced that Inglorious Basterds would be the closing film for Montreal's 2009 Fantasia Film Festival, tickets sold out within an hour of going on sale. The only reason that I was able to see the film is that organizers of Fantasia were concerned that tickets sold so fast that people who had been supporting the Festival for years were being excluded. They gave out 15 free tickets semi-randomly and since I have been going to Fantasia since the first festival back in 1996, I was given one of the lucky tickets. So, yeah, Fantasia is AWESOME.
Eli Roth came to the screening and got a hero's welcome. (Eli premiered his first film Cabin Fever at Fantasia in 2003 to a great reaction.) He watched the film with us and then answered questions afterwards.
Among the tidbits: Tarantino edited together Inglorious Basterds in six weeks to make its Cannes' debut. There were scenes that he wasn't able to cut in time to add to the film for its debut which we got to see. Tarantino also tweaked some other scenes based on reactions at Cannes, something that he had always intended to do once he showed the film to a live audience for the first time.
Roth also explained how he came to shoot the German propaganda film within a film, The Pride of Germany. "When Quentin cast me, I committed to being there for the entire shoot, but there are sequences of the film my character isn't in, so I told Quentin if he wanted me to shoot any second unit stuff to give me a camera. He told me that he didn't normally use a second unit, but he hadn't figured out the German propaganda film yet, so I could shoot that if I wanted. I grabbed Daniel [Brühl] and a camera. The first day, we did 65 shots. Quentin called me and said, 'We did twenty shots!' Yeah? We did 65 mother-fucker! We ended up doing 200 shots in 3 days. When Quentin saw the footage, he loved it and asked me to cut it together for him. It ended up being 5 and a half minutes. If you watched it on its own it would seem a little disjointed because it is meant to be excerpts from a longer film, but you will be able to watch the whole thing on the DVD."
Two caveats about any opinions that I give about Inglorious Basterds. First, I saw it for free when I had resigned myself to not seeing it for a while, so I was in a great mood. Second, the perfect way to see this movie is with 700 excited rowdy genre fans, laughing at every joke and cheering most of the violence. It doesn't hurt that virtually all 700 fans understood French and a fair number spoke German, benefitting from Quentin's desire to have characters speak their own language for the sake of authenticity.
Inglorious Basterds is a dark and violent comic fantasy, gloriously so. Built on the framework of The Dirty Dozen, Inglorious Basterds ditches the elongated training sequences of The Dirty Dozen to plunge into the action right away. In the process, Tarantino fixes one of The Dirty Dozen's major flaws by giving the bad guys screen time to remind us just how bad the Nazis were. The Nazis with the most screen time end up becoming the most completely human characters in the film, which ironically makes them even worse monsters.
Bu ditching the training sequences, Tarantino is also able to give us a picture of the entire war, showing us not only British, American and German soldiers, but also giving us glimpses into the world of French and German civilians, both collaborators and Resistance.
It goes without saying that any Tarantino film is going to have fantastic dialogue, but when Tarantino made the decision to have the French characters speak French and the Germans speak German, beyond adding a level of authenticity, Tarantino also somehow ensured that his dialogue in French was as sharp and funny and clever as his English dialogue.
Case in point, during the opening sequence the Nazi "Jew Hunter" SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christian Waltz) is interrogating French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet). Landa suspects that LaPadite is hiding a family of Jews. While subtly pressuring LaPadite, Landa asks for a glass of milk. After greedily gulping it down, Landa compliments LaPadite on his daughters and his cows, "Mes compliments a vos filles et vos vaches." The thing of it is, in French "vache" means cow, but it is also a vulgar name for the vagina. If reprimanded for this vulgar pun, Landa could quite convincingly claim not to understand French well enough to have meant it that way, but Landa does mean it that way and he means it as a threat. And LaPadite understands his meaning all too well.
As proz.com's message board pointed out to me Landa's actual quote was: "à votre famille et à vos vaches, je dis bravo." which doesn't really change the pun.
That is a really subtle piece of acting and word-play that many audiences would never catch, or at least they might understand the subtext without knowing the exact nature of the threat. The film is rich with that kind of detail. All of the French and English dialogue is chosen with that same attention to detail and while I can't swear to the German, I would suspect that it shows a similar level of craft.
Inglorious Basterds opens with the phrase, "Once Upon a Time... in Nazi-Occupied France." Personally, this reminds me of the opening of every Asterix book and movie, another comic fantasy in a war-torn occupied France. Like Asterix, Inglorious Basterds is howlingly funny in places, although the film also turns darkly serious.
In its more serious moments, Inglorious Basterds reminds us that the first casualties of war are compassion and the ability to relax, as in almost every elongated sequence of the film, Tarantino finds a new way to build cruel tension to almost unbearable levels.
Tarantino also reminds us that film is dangerous, even inflammable and that its power deserves respect.
If you can see this film as I did in a packed theatre filled with knowledgeable fans who get every joke, than you will see this masterful film the way that it was meant to be seen. If you are not that lucky, all that you will see is a great, great film that delivers a darkly funny punch.