Wideshot Reviews: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Typical in the war genre, the film does not find the need to convince the audience of the atrocities of the antagonists, which in this case, are the Nazis.

Review by: Marion Joseph Aguinaldo
Edited By: Robbie Claravall
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Mélanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl
Genre: War, Comedy, Drama

B y harmonizing every element beautifully with one another, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds ticks all the necessary boxes for a Tarantino fan — comical humor, high-stakes scenarios, and clever dialogue. With a simple plot, it delivers as an excellent revisionist World War II film that cements itself as a modern classic sure to be loved by casual and hardcore movie enthusiasts alike.

Led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a group of Jewish-American guerilla soldiers band up to do one thing and one thing only — to kill Nazis. Escaping capture in Nazi-occupied France is a young Jewish woman by the name of Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) who finds herself in a difficult situation when she is courted by a young war hero named Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) as her cinema becomes the venue of the Third Reich’s latest propaganda film. With the help of her assistant Marcel (Jacky Ido), they devise a plan to put an end to the Nazis, however, a cunningly smart detective by the name of Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) stands between the way of both parties. After a series of events and bargains, they bring an end to Hitler, his buddies, and the war that came along with it.

What may constantly awe the viewers is the performance of the actors, particularly that of Christoph Waltz’s. Being his first Hollywood role, Waltz dazzled audiences with his mastery of the four languages he employed in the film: German, French, English, and Italian. A film heavy on conversations, his execution of Tarantino’s trademark dialogue also proved his acting prowess. Because of this, his performance was well-received by the masses and critics alike, landing him an Academy Award nomination and ultimately giving him the win for Best Supporting Actor back in 2010.

What sets this film apart from other war films is its thorough use of suspense. True to his Hitchcockian inspirations, Tarantino makes use of the bomb under the table theory in setting up the lengthy conversation scenes that transform into high-stake scenarios. Arguably the secret of the Master of Suspense, the bomb theory describes two scenarios: in the first one, a bomb explodes without warning while two people are having a conversation, leading to a shock for a few seconds; the other scenario is when the viewer knows when it will explode, but the conversation continues, which becomes a distressful wait for the audience. Its use was evident in the opening scene, as well as the tavern scene later on in the film. It fills the audience with dreadful anticipation as it builds up into inevitable violence. Even with bursts of suspense peppered throughout the film, it does not lack the ingenious humor found in Tarantino’s films, that of which is usually filled with subtextual meaning.

Being his sixth film, Inglourious Basterds puts forth Tarantino’s sub-genre of historical revisionism cinema. It was followed by the Southern American slavery narrative of Django Unchained (2012), and further again with the fictional 60s Hollywood of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019). Despite the disparity between the plots, his 21st-century movies all seem to play on a central theme: revenge.

Typical in the war genre, the film does not find the need to convince the audience of the atrocities of the antagonists, which in this case, are the Nazis. It uses the historical knowledge of the audience to establish the antagonists without spending much time depicting their actions (with the exception to Hans Landa). This knowledge reinforces the viewer’s sympathy with the protagonists: for Shosanna’s plight and the goal of the Basterds. All the build-up since the beginning of the movie culminates in cathartic violence in the final act of the film in which the Nazi Government is burned alive and gunned down by the remaining Basterds. The taste of revenge does not stop with the burning of Shosanna’s cinema for it continues up until the final shot of the film. With the well-written character that is Hans Landa, the audience is left to believe that this cunning, seemingly flawless detective will get away with his opportunistic plot. By showing the invincible colonel with a Swastika-marked forehead, Tarantino says otherwise.

The pages of history cannot be rewritten, it is a proven fact; the film uses this knowledge to give the audience a glimpse into what could have been, ultimately showing humanity’s control over history.

With the plot centered around the screening of a propaganda movie, this theme is further exemplified. As touched on earlier, it also deals with the notion of revenge, and that despite not being suitable for most of the time, it still gives the viewer a deep purge of emotions from experiencing the more desirable albeit fictional version of the past. Revenge in this context is cinema’s alteration of history.

August 12, 2021

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The premier film organization of Ateneo de Manila University

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