By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
No invented horrors, however, could compare with the real ones of Filipino director Brillante Mendoza, whose family-porn-theater escapade Serbis upset the delicate sensibilities of more than a few festivalgoers during last year’s edition. This year, Mendoza was back with Kinatay, a considerably darker and more upsetting descent into the underbelly of Manilla, set mostly over the course of one long night in which a young police cadet becomes an accomplice to the murder and mutilation of a debt-addled prostitute. In something like real time, Mendoza shows the woman’s abduction, killing and the hacking up of her corpse, interspersed with many long scenes of the cadet riding around in a darkened van going to and from the scene of the crime.
Singled out by no less a Cannes veteran than Roger Ebert as the worst film ever to screen at the festival, Kinatay (the title is Tagalog for “slaughter”) isn’t pleasant to watch, nor is it intended to be. A jugular piece of agitprop that wouldn’t seem out of place on a grindhouse double bill with the original Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave, the movie wants to rankle audiences at home and abroad by confronting us with the senseless cheapening of human life, which happens daily on the streets of the developing world and too easily passes unnoticed. Mendoza, who was one of the only directors present at Cannes this year to use such explicit violence for a discernible artistic purpose rather than for superficial titillation, seems aghast at the potential brutality of his fellow man, and how those men can wash away their sins with a shower and a change of shirt — sometimes even a police shirt. To that end, he has made a duly aghast film that cannot easily be shaken — a feeling evidently shared by Huppert’s jury, which awarded Mendoza the Best Director prize to the lusty boos of the international press corps. (Defending the decision afterward, jury member Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the winner of last year’s directing prize for Three Monkeys, praised Mendoza’s film as “one of the most powerful, original films in the competition,” while Kureshi acerbically added, “This is not a dating film.”)
Mendoza could also count among his supporters none other than his fellow Cannes competitor Quentin Tarantino, who was seen enthusiastically applauding at the gala screening of Kinatay a few days before his Inglorious Basterds premiered to its own chorus of mixed reviews and general misapprehension. A jaunty World War II romp about a dirty half-dozen American grunts trying to bring an end to the Third Reich, Tarantino’s seventh feature as director was pooh-poohed even by some of its supporters as a frivolous popcorn movie undeserving of the Cannes competition, while others — including some of the same critics who have condemned Hollywood for its steady parade of solemn Holocaust memorials — shook the finger of historical revisionism at the director for daring to make a WWII film in which vengeful Jews exult at scalping Nazis and tattooing swastikas onto survivors’ heads. Still others called the movie a bore, perhaps because Tarantino’s penchant for long dialogue scenes — here taken to new extremes — is fatally out of step with the world’s increasing Twitterization. The one thing everyone could agree on: the show-stopping, star-making performance of Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as Basterds’ polyglot Nazi villain Col. Hans Landa. Appropriately, Waltz gave his Best Actor acceptance speech in a free-flowing mix of English, French and German.
Oh, what fools we critics can sometimes be. To these eyes, it seems absurd to condemn Tarantino on the grounds of political incorrectness, given that his film so obviously holds no serious political convictions. Loosely inspired by the same-named 1978 B movie by Italian schlock director Enzo G. Castellari, Basterds is framed as a fable — an opening title card reads “Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France” — and, as is usually the case with Tarantino, couches virtually everything in terms of movies themselves. Among the main characters are a theater owner, a projectionist, a soldier turned film star and — yes — even a critic turned soldier (played by Hunger star Michael Fassbender). The head bastard, Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine, takes his name from the character actor Aldo Ray, who had two of his best roles in Anthony Mann’s Men in War and Raoul Walsh’s The Naked and the Dead. The mission at hand: the sabotaging of a Nazi propaganda film premiere in occupied France.
At the same time, this smashingly entertaining movie isn’t nearly as superficial as some have claimed. Throughout, Tarantino makes direct and indirect references to the canon of wartime propaganda cinema and the ways in which movies attempt to influence or rewrite the course of history, from German propanda director Leni Riefenstahl and actor Emil Jannings are name-checked, as is French director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1943 Occupation parable Le Corbeau, while the comically over-the-top Adolph Hitler from the 1949 Stalinist propaganda film The Fall of Berlin seems as much of a model for Tarantino’s own Fuhrer as the more obvious influence of Chaplin’s Adenoid Hynkel in The Great Dictator. By the end, it’s clear that Tarantino is manufacturing his own brand of propaganda movie — one in which Jews and Nazis may battle it out to a fiery finish, but it is cinema that emerges triumphant.
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