Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds looked like a divisive piece of historic fiction long before it was in theaters. The Jewish Holocaust revenge fantasy features a fictional troupe of Jewish-American mercenaries dropped into World War II Europe to unapologetically kill SS troopers. The film, which apparently features a scene in which a Nazi soldier is scalped, has received strong reviews and premiered at the top of the American box office. But it’s in Germany of all places where the unique film has received perhaps its most unexpected accolades.
Referred to by filmmaker Tarantino as more a homage to old-time Spaghetti Westerns than World War II epics, the deck appeared stacked against the film when it came time to crack the large German market. To start off, Basterds promotional items, many of which prominently feature swastikas and other Nazi imagery, were censored by the German government, who outlawed Nazi imagery after World War II. Last year, a copy of the film’s screenplay was leaked online, causing some German concerns at the violence in the movie, which was filmed in Germany and even partially funded by the government. But after premiering last week in Germany and 21 other countries, Germany appears to love the film in a way not seen with any other Holocaust-themed film.
With German reviews of the film calling it “historic” and “important,” concerns over the film’s violence have become a relative non-issue. “”It took 65 years for a film-maker, instead of bringing Germany’s evil 20th century history to life once more to have people shudder and bow before it, to simply dream around it. And to mow all the pigs down. Catharsis! Oxygen! Wonderful retro-futuristic insanity of the imagination!” wrote Berlin’s daily Tagesspiegel.
While the country has embraced more epic, and historically-accurate, Holocaust films, particularly Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, those films forced Germany to reflect on and confront a dark past while sparking a national debate. Basterds on the other hand is pure fantasy based more on the classic Westerns of Sergio Leone than anything Spielberg ever did. That altered portrayal is now being hailed as a purely fictional romp emboldening the universal hatred towards Nazis of everyone, particularly Germans. “Unlike Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill,” Financial Times Deutschland says of Inglourious Basterds, referring to Tarantino’s previous gory masterpieces, “only the evil are massacred, the audience cheers the violent scenes with gusto.”