Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds

Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

So begins the operating assumption of Inglourious Basterds, a Holocaust film that thrusts the unthinkable on the audience by throwing it in their face and rewriting history with a flamethrower.

The “Basterds,” as this melodramas hype has shouted to the heavens, are a brigade of Jews determined to avenge Nazi crimes by murdering the criminals on the battlefield, or anywhere else. Think of a Maccabean twist on the Wild Bunch, with a lot of Sergio Leone thrown in. Think also of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, the Marvel comic that spun bloody pulp war stories in the service of leftish egalitarianism.

And Brad Pitt plays Lt. Aldo Raine, the “Basterds” leader, who chomps on a cigar and cheers on his boys, like psycho Donny Donowitz (played by Eric Roth, the Hostel series auteur), who beats out an unrepentant Nazis brains with a baseball bat. What makes a mockery of historical facts could be great for the box office.

The Nazis fight back, led by “Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), who brings style to his sadism, whether hes machine-gunning Jews in hiding or hunting down the Basterds.

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino may be counting on the movie audiences historical memory – about a nanosecond – so the young public wont notice the films resemblance to The Dirty Dozen, Robert Aldrichs 1967  classic of convicts formed into a combat unit, complete with Lee Marvin turns by Pitt. Im betting that many out there will believe that things happened as they happen in the film, that the Nazi leadership was incinerated in an auto-da-fe in a Paris cinema. Saved by a film? And who said the movies werent about wish fulfillment?

The revenge orgy is meant to be rollicking fun – and it is, if you like Nazi camp – with Diane Kruger as a German double-agent siren and Melanie Laurent as Shosanna, a French Jew bent on avenging her familys murder, who happens to catch the eye of Landa. In cinema-as-salvation mode, she just happens to be posing as the owner of a movie theater in Paris.

Sometimes the potboiler feels like a prequel to Steven Spielbergs Munich, the thriller about Israeli revenge squads dispatched by Gold Meir to kill the organizers of the 1972 murders of Israeli Olympic athletes. Its a reminder of the notion that the only justice the Jews will get is the justice that they administer themselves. Even better, most of the Basterds end up as martyrs, making more deaths to avenge.

Eli Roth and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds

Eli Roth and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds

Bu shouldnt we be concerned about Jews acting as savagely as the worst of their enemies, and reveling In it, scalping Wehrmacht officers and bashing Nazis with baseball bats after they surrender? (Bear in mind that Israelis ask similar questions every day. See coverage of the Gaza invasion in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Before all the handwringing starts (I can recall the anguished debate when Michael Madsen sliced off a hostages ear in Reservoir Dogs, Tarantinos debut film), lets remember that the cine-centric Inglourious Basterds is a movie, and a spectacular fantasy.  Didnt Freud (A Jew who fled Vienna for his life when the Nazis seized power) say that mental health depends on acknowledging repressed fantasies, no matter how extreme?

The problem with Tarantinos film is just how extreme those fantasies are, so that a Holocaust revenge tale is told in the idiom of professional wrestling. And it is fun to watch much of the time.

I just worry about the audience that doesnt have a clue as to what really happened under the Nazis.

For a staggeringly realistic documentary alternative to Inglourious Basterds, try Forgotten Transports, Lukas Pribyls magisterial four-film archaeology of deportations of Jews from Bohemia and Moravia (Czechoslovakia) to ghettos in the East. If Tarantino imagined a redemptive dream, Pribyl makes real history into a worse nightmare than we imagined.

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