I watched Inglorious Basterds last night. The trailers had left me wary, as they were all tightly oriented around placative macho motives of revenge… combine that with the war movie genre and Hitlers being slaughtered by Jews and well… I was cautious. On top of that, I live here in the heart of Germany – the land that impulsively contemplates its belly-button, as the (poorly interpreted) German saying goes. Most reviews had been reserved to negative, and close friends had given unmistakable warning; gratuitous violence, macho fairy tale, etc.
So of course I went to see it, and humbly report that I have a new favorite Tarantino film. There’s loads to talk about, from masterful cinematic moments and surprisingly shoddy sets (that didn’t bother me in the least) but I’ll concentrate on one aspect: the German identity.
After the movie, I sat over a beer with friends – all German by passport and Polish, Russian and German from background (yes, that is an important distinction here).
Every German in the film was a Nazi, complained one friend about his nation’s portrayal, except for the one guy who couldn’t act. And he was an ex-Nazi psychopath.
Bridget von Hammersmarck was a spy for England, I added.
But the balance is established in the portrayal of the ‘heroes’. Shosanna Dreyfus plans her revenge with nearly as much cold-blood as her (brillantly evil) counterpart Hans Landa. She allows herself only one moment of sympathy, as she comforts the self-centered Fredrick Zoller who she’s just shot. this one moment of humanity is reprimanded with her own death, as the dying youth shoots her in return. Aldo Raine and his Basterds never appear as brave soldiers in battle but as sadistic vultures terrorizing already captured foes, and later as incompetent spies. And in a wonderful portrait of the perversion of cliches, the very white Aldo brags of being half Apache (his grandfather was a trapper) and thus initiates the tradition of scalping Nazis… reinforcing his claim. Cliche revealed as the story-telling nuts-and-bolts of identity, no matter how defunct of reality.
I can’t help but feel that this film is a landmark in modern German identity, perhaps the first since the World Cup in 2006, the first event since the Second World War that saw Germans celebrate their national identity. Inglorious Basterds is the first film that invites Germans to celebrate hating Nazis. Thank you, Quentin!