Scene Is Believing: Inglorious Basterds

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Death Laughs At 24 Frames Per Second

Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s most playfully cinephilic, meta-textual wish fulfillment fantasy – cinema as world changer. Quite literally, despite the bumbling “Basterds” independent addition to the night’s entertainment. It is Shosanna / Emmanuelle (Mélanie Laurent) who’s will shall triumph over those of the higher echelon Nazis, including Hitler and Goebbels, desecrating her beloved Le Gamarr Theatre.

Chapter V “Revenge Of The Giant Face” begins slowly, moodily, with Shosanna leaning against a round window, looking out on a Bridget Von Hammersmark film poster, her own face reflected and superimposed upon the actress, foreshadowing her forthcoming role. This sequence plays out in slow reframing of her in first long shot, medium shot, medium close-up, then close-up. Her formal red dress matches the Nazi banners seen hanging outside through the window, which itself suggests a sighting scope or camera aperture. The  fetishization of her dress, applying make-up (streaks of rouge as war paint) and drawing down of her black veil suggest she is preparing for a funeral, in the Nazi’s own colours.

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The soundtrack plays David Bowie’s theme for the 1982 remake of Cat People; the lyric Putting out the fire with gasoline” suggests the revenge she will exact is one of brutal, no holds barred excess. Francis Bacon called revenge a “Wild justice”. For Shosanna, her lifeblood, the cinema’s stock of highly flammable nitrate film, will be the instrument to send them all to hell.

Though not before she “flips the image” on her oppressors, by occupying their own propoganda film, Nation’s Pride. In his sniper’s tower on screen, Nazi poster boy Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) screams in English to the American troops below, “Who wants to send a message to Germany?” Shosanna has been waiting for this moment, and although she and Zoller now both lie dead in the projection room, her pre-spliced reel intercuts, avenging her from beyond the grave:

I have a message for Germany: that you are all going to die. And I want you to look deep into the face of the Jew who’s going to do it.”

Like the heroine of  The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928), her face fills the screen in extreme close up. At Shosanna’s command, her devoted lover and assistant Marcel (Jacky Ido), flicks his lit cigarette in glorious slow motion across the frame to the huge pile of exposed, highly flammable nitrate film behind the screen, sealing his own fate and those of everyone in the locked theatre.

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Unlike the devout Joan, Shosanna laughs demonically, Hitler’s face agog and apoplectic. Her voice continues, “This is the face of Jewish vengeance.”  Georg Seeßlen in his book on the film states that her appearance and announcement on screen undermines the fascist aesthetic in a manner resembling Chaplin’s The Great Dictator: “The individual behind the mask becomes visible.” The truth is revealed behind their distortion.

The final shots of the scene show Shosanna’s face as a ghostly spectre, the screen completely burned away, yet still projecting. She resists temporal entrapment, floating above the burning theatre like God’s instrument of divine retribution from the climax of Spielberg’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark: Both sets of Nazis incinerated by beautiful angels of death. She further subverts their twisted imagery by becoming a “Death’s Head”. Shosanna breaks the fourth wall, leaving the screen to speak to us all. Hair scraped back, shorn of make-up, pale and severe – rather than a figure of pity from the camps, this fierce Jewess transcends history, becoming an uncomfortable projection of our own desire for retribution, forcing us to question: would we be willing, if the past could be rewritten, to send the Nazis to their own furnace? And would we be mad enough to go with them?

 

 

 

 

 

Originally posted 2013-09-04 19:37:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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