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Cannes report: Brad Pitt in Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds'

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Inglouriousbasterds_l_2

Inglouriousbasterds_l_2

I wish you had been there with me this morning.

Seriously, I wish everyone who ever wants to see Inglourious Basterds,  Quentin Tarantino’s newest, brash cine-geek homage to genre moviemaking, could have been there waiting for an hour with me at 7:30 on a sparkling sunny weekday morning at the Cannes Film Festival. It would have been so great if you could have joined the mob stamping and twitching and actually buzzing to get into the  very first, 8:30 a.m. screening of the very latest, certainly very Brad Pitt-iest movie to arrive on the Croisette from the very oxygenated Palme d’Or winner. Oh, how you would have enjoyed breathing the heady atmosphere for which QT made his creation! Plus, you would have freaked out the squadron of guards!

As it is, the minute the festival tents fold and the movie is

eventually released in less glamorous American movie theaters, it’s

unlikely that this joke-y, boyish, play-acted war-game fantasy (at

least half spoken in German and French) can ever be inhaled with quite

the right mixture of helium and nitrous oxide required to sustain the

anticipatory hullaballoo. The tall-tale premise introduces a small band

of primarily Jewish, Nazi-hating “basterds,” led by doggone Tennessee

mountain drawler Aldo Raine (Pitt), who join forces with one Shoshanna

Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a French Jewish woman who escaped while her

family was murdered, and who now runs a little local movie theater.

While the boys scalp Nazis (watch! one of them also specializes in

clubbing heads with an American baseball bat!), Shoshanna has plans to

topple the Third Reich by killing Hitler and all his biggies assembled

at one screening of a Nazi-propaganda war drama in her Cinema Paradiso

of a movie hall.

And yet: It’s amazing how little Nazis, Hitler, mass murder, or

Resistance bravery mean in this action cartoon. Tarantino is a

brilliant showman, the smartest, most erudite guy in the movie

clubhouse, a master at re-creating old and/or exotic styles (Hong Kong

action, blaxploitation) for a new audience — no argument. Inglourious Basterds

pays homage to spaghetti westerns, noirs, WWII war pics, and spy

thrillers, and those who adore being in the know about cinema history

will feel super satisfied to figure out throw-away allusions to past

movie stars, movie makers, movie scenes, and movie costumes.

But how deep can a movie that repurposes recycled material go? Not

very. I’ve never felt that Tarantino has ever been interested in real

emotions or real characters, and that’s fine, that’s not his thing. But

the choice is also an Inglourious limitation. So Pitt play acts;

that’s what’s called for. And Jews and movies win the war this time

around. But a Nazi steals the picture. I’m talking about Austrian actor

Christoph Waltz — huge in his home country, unknown in ours but about

to be famous — who’s memorable long after the credits roll in retro

typography. (Ennio Morricone’s retro music works hard, too.) Waltz

plays icily precise Nazi colonel Hans Landa, known as “the Jew Hunter.”

And from his very first scene, in which Landa pries information out of

a French farmer, spaghetti-western style, he’s irresistible, a one-man

display of theatrical virtuosity applied to a villain we’re meant to

love to hate.

Second-best Nazi award, by the way, goes to the celebrated young German actor Daniel Bruhl (The Bourne Ultimatum),

while German-born Diane Kruger wins the award as best German undercover

agent/actress in high-heeled pumps. Oh, and B.J.Novak from The Office? He’s a Jewish Basterd, too. No joke.

 

More from the Cannes Film Festival:
Penelope Cruz in Almodovar’s Broken Embraces
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist: “The closest film to a scream”
Roger Ebert, A Prophet, and a trend that ought to end
Taking Woodstock = Peace and Love and Demitri Martin
Bright Star and the Scottish charms of Paul Schneider
At Cannes: Up, Tetro, and lots of balloons

As it is, the minute the festival tents fold and the movie iseventually released in less glamorous American movie theaters, it’sunlikely that this joke-y, boyish, play-acted war-game fantasy (atleast half spoken in German and French) can ever be inhaled with quitethe right mixture of helium and nitrous oxide required to sustain theanticipatory hullaballoo. The tall-tale premise introduces a small bandof primarily Jewish, Nazi-hating “basterds,” led by doggone Tennesseemountain drawler Aldo Raine (Pitt), who join forces with one ShoshannaDreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a French Jewish woman who escaped while herfamily was murdered, and who now runs a little local movie theater.While the boys scalp Nazis (watch! one of them also specializes inclubbing heads with an American baseball bat!), Shoshanna has plans totopple the Third Reich by killing Hitler and all his biggies assembledat one screening of a Nazi-propaganda war drama in her Cinema Paradisoof a movie hall.

And yet: It’s amazing how little Nazis, Hitler, mass murder, orResistance bravery mean in this action cartoon. Tarantino is abrilliant showman, the smartest, most erudite guy in the movieclubhouse, a master at re-creating old and/or exotic styles (Hong Kongaction, blaxploitation) for a new audience — no argument. Inglourious Basterdspays homage to spaghetti westerns, noirs, WWII war pics, and spythrillers, and those who adore being in the know about cinema historywill feel super satisfied to figure out throw-away allusions to pastmovie stars, movie makers, movie scenes, and movie costumes.

But how deep can a movie that repurposes recycled material go? Notvery. I’ve never felt that Tarantino has ever been interested in realemotions or real characters, and that’s fine, that’s not his thing. Butthe choice is also an Inglourious limitation. So Pitt play acts;that’s what’s called for. And Jews and movies win the war this timearound. But a Nazi steals the picture. I’m talking about Austrian actorChristoph Waltz — huge in his home country, unknown in ours but aboutto be famous — who’s memorable long after the credits roll in retrotypography. (Ennio Morricone’s retro music works hard, too.) Waltzplays icily precise Nazi colonel Hans Landa, known as “the Jew Hunter.”And from his very first scene, in which Landa pries information out ofa French farmer, spaghetti-western style, he’s irresistible, a one-mandisplay of theatrical virtuosity applied to a villain we’re meant tolove to hate.

Second-best Nazi award, by the way, goes to the celebrated young German actor Daniel Bruhl (The Bourne Ultimatum),while German-born Diane Kruger wins the award as best German undercoveragent/actress in high-heeled pumps. Oh, and B.J.Novak from The Office? He’s a Jewish Basterd, too. No joke.

 

More from the Cannes Film Festival:
Penelope Cruz in Almodovar’s Broken Embraces
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist: “The closest film to a scream”
Roger Ebert, A Prophet, and a trend that ought to end
Taking Woodstock = Peace and Love and Demitri Martin
Bright Star and the Scottish charms of Paul Schneider
At Cannes: Up, Tetro, and lots of balloons

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