First Night: Inglourious Basterds, Cannes Film Festival

4.00

Tarantino bounces back to gloriously violent form

"I think this might be my masterpiece," Lt Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) declares after carving a swastika on a Nazi's forehead toward the end of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The film might not be Tarantino's masterpiece but it is his most entertaining and exhilarating effort since Pulp Fiction.

As ever, this is a film about other films as much as it is about its ostensible subject – vigilante Jewish Nazi hunters during the latter part of the Second World War. It should be noted at the outset that Tarantino's treatment of the Second World War is resoundingly superficial. Don't look for nuance or depth here or for sophisticated analysis of what lay behind the Holocaust.

Nor is this really an action movie. There are great action sequences along the way – including a tremendous opening that plays like a Germanic version of Sergio Leone, with the Nazis turning up on their motorbikes on the horizon and driving toward a small farmhouse where a Jewish family is hidden.

What really propels the movie, though, isn't the gun-toting but Tarantino's wise-cracking, brilliantly inventive dialogue. It is a film shot in Germany and made in many different languages: everyone speaks in their own tongue. Usually, this would be the surest route to Euro-pudding flatulence.

However, Tarantino makes a virtue of what must have appeared an enormous hindrance, moving lithely between languages and generating humour from cultural and linguistic differences between Brits, Germans, Yanks, Italians and the French.

In the director's familiar, scattershot fashion, elements are thrown together from spaghetti westerns, Sam Fuller's The Big Red One, Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen and even Ernst Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be. Hitler, Goebbels and Churchill all put in appearances. There are nods in the direction of Leni Riefenstahl, old UFA movies and even a nod or two in the direction of British wartime cinema. Other directors' work would sink under the weight of so many references but somehow they seem to energise rather than slow down a movie that is already very long.

The plot doesn't make a huge amount of sense. It centres on Operation Kino, a plan which the Inglourious Basterds (as the Jewish vigilantes are called) have hatched to bomb a Paris cinema in which Goebbels is holding the premiere of a propaganda picture about a heroic Sergeant York-like Nazi sniper.

Despite the wartime setting, we're still in Tarantino's universe. Many of the protagonists resemble characters found in earlier Tarantino movies. Mélanie Laurent's vengeful young Jewish woman is not so different from Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill films. The Basterds have some of the same swagger as Reservoir Dogs.

The way the Germans are drawn is so broad that it makes the characterisations in Allo, Allo! seem restrained. However, there is an intensity about the film-making and performances that stops even the more absurd elements here appearing risible. You can't help but admire Tarantino's chutzpah. No other director would have the gall to throw in a David Bowie song ("Putting Out Fire With Gasoline") in a 1940s war film or to cast Rod Taylor as Winston Churchill.

The violence is often extreme – the Jewish Nazi hunters have a habit of scalping their victims; one hunter likes to batter in his antagonist's head with a baseball bat; and a shoot-out in an underground bar is sheer bloody carnage – but it comes in bursts and has a comic book element about it.

Some will be offended, although it's hard to get too upset about a film made with such geekish enthusiasm.

Christoph Waltz gives a wonderfully (and intentionally) hammy performance as the movie chief villain, the urbane but very sadistic "Jew Hunter" Colonel Landa. It's a purring, eye-rolling performance that evokes memories of Laurence Olivier's Richard III. Brad Pitt, the ostensible star, isn't on screen as much as might have been expected but brings a cheery comic élan to his role as the Jewish Tennessee moonshine smuggler turned Nazi killer.

At times, there are so many competing plotlines and characters that the film risks drifting off into incoherence.

Tarantino knows, though, that what you need to end a film like this is a very big bang. This he provides courtesy of old-fashioned, highly flammable nitrate film stock, which (we learn) burns three times faster than paper. It's an in-joke – a film explosion being caused by film – but it still works a treat.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'