The first chapter is a masterpiece. If this were a short, I would count Inglourious Basterds with the greatest pieces ever made about the Holocaust. It makes a bone-shattering case about gentile collaboration to the Holocaust: good, compassionate, ordinary folk could become collaborationists. And Tarantino slams our heads in this wall mercilessly. We get to meet the gentile farmer, his pristine life, his beautiful daughters. We get to know he is a simple mannered, good and decent man, who has been hiding and protecting his Jewish neighbours for a long time. And then when he is faced with the simple choice of handing them in or losing everything, who of us is ready to perceive him as a Nazi-collaborationist monster? Would he deserve a swastika etched on his forehead? Would not any ordinary person have done exactly as he did?
The Nazis and their collaborators have consistently been demonized ever since the end of WWII. And it’s amazing to find this sort of depth in a film that plays exactly with this black and white polarization, of beasts and heroes. In fact, I think that this makes an even greater case for the extremes, the heroes and the beasts. The beasts were indeed Beasts and the heroes were true Heroes.
I thought I was immune to racism. I thought that coming from a background without any racial tensions whatsoever, I would be free of what I perceived as a New World condition. But when the beautiful blonde Jewess proclaimed her passionate love for the black man, I found myself being surprised. Maybe I can blame the rest of my Hollywood and American TV upbringing, and its disgusting “token black guy” conventions, but when I was first introduced to the black worker of the cinema, without much attention my stereotyping machinery immediately classified him as something of a stereotypical “uncle Tom” figure, an unimportant sidekick. Looking back, I think I was half expecting him to say “anything ya want ma’am Mimieux!” or something…
Apparently, we don’t get many interracial couples in pop culture, and even more, the coupling of an emancipated, beautiful (and blonde) woman with a black man is extremely rare. That detail was a very good punch in the stomach of my own unknowingly held preconceptions and prejudices for which I’m sincerely grateful.
Inglourious Basterds wants to be an alternative history revenge movie. But I think that the sequence of historical events that actually happened is a vastly better revenge story. Yes, what actually happened in History might not be a particularly Jewish revenge story, but damn, the bloodbath in the theater is a much lamer punishment for the Nazis than the Red Army gloriously raising its banner on the Reichstag! For one thing, remember that, from the Nazi point of view, the Jew and the Communist were identical entities. For another, the bloodbath in the theater, as single act of revenge, seems too easy on the Nazis. Sure, in Tarantino’s version, Hitler gets a machine gun instead of going peacefully in his bunker. But in the Red Army version, you also get Nazis in gulags! And a long series of persecutions against Nazis, collaborationists and ordinary Germans (including some pretty horrific stuff). Hey, don’t be a hypocrite and roll your eyes, it’s revenge that we’re talking about, not justice. Or you forgot about the scalping and the clubbing?