Cannes 2009: Inglourious Basterds Is Amoral, Crude, Juvenile–In Other Words, Quintessential Tarantino


Our film critic J. Hoberman is filing regular dispatches from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s time, finally, to hear about Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Wednesday dawned, Inglourious Basterds arrived, and, at the press conference immediately following the movie’s first, packed screening, the uberbasterd, as Quentin Tarantino was introduced, immediately one-upped a rival laureate.

Two days before, Lars von Trier, maker of Antichrist, had used his press conference to anoint himself the greatest director in the world. Now, a few minutes into the love-fest, Tarantino declared that he was God–at least so far as the characters in Inglourious Basterds were concerned. Garrulous, expulsive, borderline hectoring, Tarantino was in his element. “I am not an American filmmaker. I make movies for the planet Earth!”

OK. So what is there to say about a movie that ends with the corniest character (Brad Pitt) proclaiming, “This might be my masterpiece.” Lots actually. Inglourious Basterds might well be QT’s m.p.–if by that we mean the fullest expression of a particular artist’s worldview. Perhaps one should call Inglourious Basterds–a sort of World War II spaghetti western, even more drenched in film references than blood–quintessential Tarantino. A little long, a bit too pleased with itself, it’s a movie of enthusiastic performances, terrific dialogue, amoral, surprisingly crude, mayhem, and mind-boggling juvenile fantasy.

Imagine an alternate World War II in which Jews terrorize Nazis and a good Holocaust (in a Paris movie theater yet) trumps the real one. Horror film director Eli Roth who, cast as the toughest of the Jews, gets to bludgeon captured Nazis with a baseball bat, called the movie “kosher porn.” His creator was a bit more universalist: “The power of cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich… I get a kick of that!” Inglourious Basterds, coming to a theater near you this August, proves once again that Quentin Tarantino really knows movies–and that movies may be all he really knows.