In Germany, an ovation for 'Inglourious Basterds'

The film – opening in 22 countries this weekend – is so far from reality that it allows the audience to let go and accept the movie in all its entertaining absurdity.

US director Quentin Tarantino signs autographs before the German premiere of his new movie "Inglourious Basterds" in Berlin, July 28.

BERLIN – The 7:30 p.m. showing of Quentin Tarantino’s World War II film “Inglourious Basterds” was completely sold out – like the shows that preceded and followed it at the Postdamer Platz Sony Theater in Berlin.

As the audience took its seats, one could hear German, English, French, Italian, Spanish and other languages being spoken, a crowd reflective of the multicultural city.

But once the movie began, a certain discomfort settled over the crowd.

How would an audience in the capital of Germany, the country blamed for starting the war that destroyed Europe, react to a violent, farcical film about it?

“I really don’t know what to expect,” said Alex, a Swiss comic-book artist, just as the light went dim. “I’m nervous as to how it will be received.”

The audience remained quiet through the film’s opening scenes, many sitting forward in their seats. One woman repeatedly covered her eyes, as if expecting something awful to happen at any moment.

It wasn’t until Austrian actor Christopher Waltz, portraying Nazi Col. Hans Landa, appeared on the screen, that the discomfort abated.

Late in the film’s opening sequence, Mr. Waltz, playing the villain, switches from harsh-sounding German to a lyrical French, then to a comical English. In this film, unlike most other World War II movies, English was the least-spoken language.

“That’s really interesting for a Hollywood blockbuster,” Alex whispered.

Landa’s opening performance began to reveal the movie for what it ultimately is – a farce so far from reality that it allows the audience to let go of personal connections with the characters, just as the characters abandon their native tongues, and accept the movie in all of its entertaining absurdity.

By the time Brad Pitt takes the screen as Aldo the Apache, the head of a band of Jewish American soldiers charged with killing as many Nazis as possible, the mood in the theater had lightened and the laughs came easy.

But because of the film's subject matter, there were times when the discomfort returned.

“I was a bit uncomfortable with the killing of all the Germans,” said Johannes, a student living on the outskirts of Berlin. “Some of the soldiers were just fighting because they had to.”

Others thought the violence was so over the top that it made the story easier to accept. Of course World War II was violent, but, as Frederika, a German moviegoer said, “We’re now used to American movies with a lot of violence.”

Many reviewers in the United States have called the film a Jewish revenge fantasy against the Third Reich, which, undoubtedly, it is. The last scene of the movie indulges this fantasy in a fantastic, yet unbelievable way. (To see The Monitor film critic's review of Inglourious Basterds, click here.)

But the film did not denounce violence committed only by the Third Reich. All violence – American, British, German or French – was so gratuitous that it, in the context of the film, seemed unnecessary.

“People who are our age can laugh at this,” said one member of the audience. “We didn’t live in that time.”

And, in the end, everyone did laugh. They laughed at the Americans’ accents, at the Germans’ arrogance, and at British priggishness. This audience was from a Europe united by the European Union, increasingly common customs, and long-established peace.

As the credits ran, the audience gave the film an ovation. Afterward, people said they clapped in part because the film was well liked. But they also clapped because they were glad that the wars like the one parodied by Mr. Tarantino are history and not likely to happen again.

“It has a really good end,” said Esther, a German woman from outside of the city who saw the movie with four friends. “Hitler was dead. And he’s not coming back.”

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