Inglourious Basterds

World War II films about Nazis continue to attract attention by demonstrating various aspects of the struggle that have escaped public attention. Then there’s Inglourious Basterds, a retake of a 1978 Italian movie, directed by Quentin Tarantino. With many subliminal references to other films, Inglourious Basterds depicts Jewish American scalphunters behind enemy lines while a Jewish girl plots to burn a cinema attended by Hitler and cronies. The film is pure satire. The beginning scene, in which First Lieutenant Aldo Raine (played by Brad Pitt) requires his squad to bring him 100 Nazi scalps, is the most amusing part of the farce, particularly since a hillbilly Tennessean (whose accent perhaps explains the misspellings in the title) claims to be a Plains Indian Apache. War is won by forcing an enemy to surrender, so revenge violence against individuals far down the chain of command from those who will ultimately have to wave a white flag is a distortion of military strategy, pointing out how the emotions associated with demonizing an enemy can turn into preposterous excesses. In that respect, Inglourious Basterds is an anti-war film about a ridiculously out-of-control death squad. The rules of warfare laid down by the Geneva and Hague Conventions are clearly violated, insofar as noncombatant Nazi police are occasional targets, just as Lieutenant William Calley shot supposed members of the Viet Cong. According to Article 17 of the First Geneva Convention, every soldier killed in combat is entitled to a decent burial, and Inglourious Basterds demonstrates that illegality as well. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Inglourious Basterds for the best film of 2009 promoting peaceful resolution of conflict by demonstrating the absurdity of berserk warriors who can only invite counter-revenge. MH