by Joshua Gardner (Coordinator for the Washington Jewish Film Festival, which runs December 3-13, 2009)
As coordinator of the Washington Jewish Film Festival, I have seen my fair share of Holocaust films, but I can say with certainty I have not seen anything like Inglourious Basterds before. It’s part tense World War II thriller, part over the top gore-fest and a one hundred percent Jewish revenge fantasy. Ok so maybe not yours or mine, but unmistakably Quentin Tarantino’s Jewish revenge fantasy. Which other filmmaker could center a pivotal scene in a World War II film to David Bowie’s Cat People?
For those unfamiliar with the premise of the film, Inglourious Basterds focuses on a rag-tag group of Jewish-American soldiers getting revenge against the Nazi’s and a young French-Jewish survivor also searching for vengeance. These separate story-lines collide when the Third Reich decides to hold a lavish movie premiere at the very cinema the French-Jewish woman owns. The film ends with a bang with the whole cinema, Hitler and all, being mercilessly destroyed. If I remember my High School history class correctly, this isn’t exactly how it happened.
I am part of the final generation that will get to experience a Survivor’s first hand story. I think for this very reason we are seeing resurgence in Holocaust film, a final push before the wounds of time slowly heal. I think Inglourious Basterds puts itself on this very edge of Holocaust filmic history, a challenging movie that puts forth the idea that film shapes history. After first-person narratives fade away, the Holocaust will live on through Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful for a generation who never gets to meet a survivor. Who’s to say Tarantino’s version of history won’t be equally prolific for legions of young Jews in the future, an entertaining exercise in “what-if” theorizing.
Tarantino’s spin on the end of World War II is a cathartic re-envisioning; his ultimate ode to the power of cinema. And for all of the implications this film brings up it still manages to be one of the most disgusting, edge of your seat, World War II comedies I have ever seen. Suffice to say: it’s one for the history books.