Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to write and direct a fantasia on World War II. He takes certain inescapable facts (the Germans occupied France, they did their best to kill all Jews, etc.). He didn’t change that; what he did do was invent an 8-man squad of Jewish American soldiers under the command of Brad Pitt (named Aldo Raines, out of respect for the old actor in World War II films Aldo Ray), whose job was to parachute into occupied France and kill Germans.
Where he takes us from there is, well, a rewrite of history, and along the way he provides us with the most inventive of German villains I’ve ever seen. His name is Col. Hans Landa, played by the Austrian actor Christoph Waltz in a smooth performance in three languages (German, French, English), with a range that goes from over-the-top humor to the most appalling evil. Tarantino rightly makes him the most complex and chilling character in the whole film.
“Inglourious Basterds” – the title comes direct from an obscure Italian film about the war, misspellings and all – begins with Col. Landa’s visit to a French dairy farmer’s house. He and the farmer talk and talk, until the Colonel gets what he’s come for: the farmer is hiding a Jewish family in the cellar. Only one member gets away, the daughter Shosanna (Melanie Laurent); the next time we see her she will be running a cinema in Paris under a different name.
And then Tarantino introduces us to Aldo Raines and his squad, who are dropped by parachute into France solely to kill and scalp German soldiers, doing their best to spread fear and panic among them.
What happens then, including a premiere at the cinema of a heroic German film about someone who’s been called “the German Sergeant York,” I cannot say. What I can say, though, is that Tarantino has fooled all of us once again, with the most inventive film in years. Not since “Kill Bill” has he been so good, so sure of himself in taking us along a path that only he can see, and making it all work. “Inglourious Basterds” may not be his best film – that, for me, is “Jackie Brown” – but he’s lost none of his imaginative conceits, and that counts for a lot.