Friday, September 11, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I was perhaps unreasonably excited for Inglourious Basterds. This happens just about any time one of my favorite writers/directors/actors/podcasters/bloggers takes on a project that means something to me. Will Ferrell making a movie about the ABA in the '70s? The concept sounded awesome at the time, even though that movie, it turns out, sucks. So when I heard that Quentin Tarantino was making a movie largely focused on American Jews, well yeah, this would be the type of thing that I would get excited about. But it turns out that the Nazi context slightly tempered my enjoyment of the film. Not necessarily because I consider it inappropriate to make entertaining movies about the Holocaust, but because any context at all makes Tarantino's hallmark violence and gore just a tad bit uncomfortable. It's a feeling I didn't get while watching any of his other movies, but it made this one just a tad bit awkward.

But the frame of reference isn't my biggest issue with this film. I'll let the excellent Matt Zoller Seitz explain what drives Tarantino movies:
Tarantino’s talk is not just the fuel of his movies: it’s the engine, the wheels and most of the frame. It’s where the real dramatic and philosophical action takes place. The gunshots, car crashes and torture scenes are punctuation.
And despite the mixed metaphor, I agree with his point wholeheartedly. To show you why he (and I) thinks this, here's a montage of this dialogue compiled by Seitz:

So we run into a problem when the majority of the dialogue in a Tarantino film is spoken in either French or German. The problem, specifically, is, I don't speak French or German, and I imagine that this is true for most of the American audience. So even though some pretty spectacular things are done with the subtitles--in addition to the incomparable Tarantino plot and camera-work and two Mexican standoffs--it's just not the same. Tarantino cuts the audience off here from what it most connects with. And it's this gap, more than any Holocaust squeamishness, that keeps this movie from being great. It comes close, but it's not great.

1 comment:

JoSF said...

you make an interesting point about the language of the movie. though i didn't think that it cut me off, and the subtitles were used sparingly so did it really cause such a disconnect?