We went to see Inglourious Basterds at our local cinema in the small town of Sarlat, in southwestern France. Having seen no reviews, I hoped only to be entertained and—yes, please—scandalized by the writer-director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill, all of which revelled in the protracted dances of cruelty and death that have made Quentin Tarantino the reigning schlockmeister of the cinema.
The movie starts with a neat defeat of modernist expectation by being divided into “chapters” (in homage to Jean-Luc Godard and his 1964 film Bande à Part, or Band of Outsiders, after which Tarantino named his own production company). Chapter One begins, in print, “Once upon a time. . .” (more homage, this time to the master of the spaghetti western, director Sergio Leone, and his Once Upon a Time in the West). Then comes a title: “France 1941.” The opening shot—an exterior of a farmhouse in a landscape like the one through which my wife and I had just driven—establishes the breadth of Tarantino’s canvas, the masterliness of his mise-en-scène. A French farmer, silhouetted against blue sky, is seen chopping wood. If my memory is right, he mostly chops the chopping block and splits very few, if any, logs. Realism and portentousness fuse in this empty exercise.
Click here to read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY.