06 March 2011

Der Untergang vs Inglorious Basterds [War movies part 3]

Last part of my comparison of the German cinema take on WW2 and Hollywood. This last part will be a review of the heavy German movie "der Untergang/Downfall" and the tounge in the cheek WW2 cartoony fantasy of Quentin Tarantino. Why? Well they both feature Hitler, Nazis and in their own way the end of WW2. Is it fair to compare two such in the end vastly different movies? Maybe not but it can be interesting nonetheless - and why does everything have to be fair all the time?

Let’s start with Inglorious Basterds. And I can’t explain the weird plot of the movie without talking briefly about Tarantino. I used to be a fan of Tarantino, but I think he has jumped the shark. In my opinion his last good movie was Pulp Fiction, a followup of the low budget Reservoir Dogs which was quite alright. Since then however, he has been revealed as a one trick pony – filling his movies with seedy C-grade stories, characters that talk for 15 minutes about random shit and never getting to the point just because it’s “cool and artsy”. It was cool the first two times,  now it’s repetitive. He has also this, again in my opinion, shitty explanation that all his movies are “homages” to old crap movies he used to see as a kid. The problem here is that he doesn’t make these “homages” good enough to pass for modern entertainment. Compare his work to Robert Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez know how to make “shit” movies and still make them entertaining as hell (Planet Terror, Machete). Somehow people buy the “homage” explanation of Tarantino. I don’t. Imagine if I were painting models like a 4 year old, trying to pass those skills off as a “homage” to “the beginnings of my painting career”.  Ridiculous.

So I was much surprised when Tarantino said he wanted to make a WW2 movie. Part of me hoped for a decent over the top action movie (imagine a WW2 version of the Expendables which itself is based upon old B action movies). Unfortunately Inglorious Basterds is a rather boring mashup of halfassed ideas of which very little work out. The main plot of the movie is the revenge of a French jewish girl whose family is murdered in cold blood by Nazis  - and her plans to use a local cinema in Paris to premiere a German propaganda movie that will attract a lot of German brass and supposedly even Hitler. The other part of the movie is about the title gang of US/allied soldiers – all of them jewish as well. The “Basterds”  get surprisingly little screen time in this movie, most of it is posing, talking stupid and building up to action sequences you never get to see…. Wtf?

Like in one scene Brad Pits talks about how the Basterds are expert guerilla fighters, sweeping through Normandy like crazed Indians, scalping Germans and raising hell. You never get to see that. It’s Brad Pitt talking about it, then cut to a finished ambush.  The Basterds have one brilliant scene, and one completely retarded scene. And this really shows you that Tarantino needs help to sort out his shit ideas from what actually works to make a proper 100% good movie. There is a very suspenseful scene where the Basterds, disguised as Germans  enter a café with German soldier and one of the German officers comes up to them and starts asking a lot of questions about their accents. That entire scene is as good as it gets, in regard to the Basterds storyline.  I won’t spoil it because the movie is worth watching for very few reasons but this being one of the good ones.

One review I read a long time ago said the movie should be called “Inglorious Jew Girl” since 70% of the movie is about the jewish girl Shoshanna and the German SS colonel Hans Landa.  The scenes these two characters share are brilliant, and Christoph Waltz who plays Landa steals the movie every time he shows his smug smile on screen. The character of Hans Landa is so over the top hilarious and psychopathic that the best way to describe him would probably be - if Amon Goeth from Schindlers list could tell jokes – he would be Hans Landa. How Waltz can turn simple stuff like asking for cream into a suspenseful hold your breath moment is great. Too bad the movie falls apart, because the story itself is stupid. Shoshanna acquiring the cinema in Paris holding the premiere of a nazi propaganda movie and getting her revenge on every evil Nazi in France feels really really stupid the way it’s portrayed.  Hitler shows up in this movie, in a cape. Need I say more?

This movie doesn’t work as a modern Dirty Dozen, it doesn’t work as a serious movie, and it doesn’t work as a complete movie either – it is a Frankensteins monster of ideas and concepts. How this got 8.4 on IMDB is beyond me. It’s not even that entertaining, it’s not a movie I wanted to watch again soon. I wish Tarantino would have cut the Basterds part of the movie, and focused on the mischievous Hans Landa and his tour of death across the French countryside and making Shoshanna a proper resistance fighter.

The reason one would like to watch this movie is mainly Christoph Waltz, I bet 6 out of that 8.4 score on IMDB is thanks to him. There is also some good scenes, like the café scene with the Basterds,  the very first scene of the movie where Shoshanna’s family gets murdered. But other than that this is a pretty mediocre movie even for Tarantino. Kill Bill vol 1 was far better than this.

If you want to watch a movie about resistance fighters/jewish resistance fighter during WW2 watch the movie “Defiance” instead. I’ve read a few suggestions “Come and see” , a Russian movie about the resistance in Belorussia. But I saw that movie and it is just plain weird and I don’t think the style works for any audience outside of Russia. Like long takes of nothing, followed by stuff that makes no sense, followed by some “shock moments”. I didn’t find it to be any good.

If you want to watch a serious movie about the holocaust watch Schindlers List, and a much more interesting portrayal of the German Brass during the last days of the third Reich – watch Der Untergang/Downfall.

Which brings me to -  Der Untergang or Downfall as the English title goes.

I think it took a lot of balls for a German director to make a movie where the main character is Adolf Hitler. Considering that the Germans are very very sensitive about WW2, nazi’s, Hitler, damn the whole nation seems so traumatized that you can’t even show a swastika painted on a miniature tank without getting yelled at regardless of whether or not its historicallyaccurate. Der Untergang is about the last weeks of the Third Reich. “Ivan” is starting the artillery barrage of Berlin and Hitler is hiding out with his staff in the bunker in central Berlin. The movie kinda chronicles the life with the Führer of one of his secretaries, and much of the movie is through her eyes. From how she first meets Hitler in his “wolfs lair” in Prussia where she tries to get a job as a secretary – screws up during the typewriter test – but still gets the job. To her being part of the “Führer bunker” staff in those last hours of nazi Germany. 

This movie is really amazing, and chilling in its portrayal of a society crumbling under the pressure of war. Hitler issues orders of complete annihilation of infrastructure, disregarding the lives of civilians because clearly the Germans have let him down and the people of the east are the “übermensch”.  People are evacuating, the army digging in, buildings blowing up, children and old men being forced into the underequipped and untrained “Volksturm” battalions – truly Götterdämmerung.  This entire movie is again, not trying to explain anything, instead just like in Das Boot and Stalingrad – Der Untergang shows the very end of the road for the losing side of a war and the misery inflicted on the civilians who in the end pay the highest price. The German actor Bruno Ganz who plays Hitler is looking like a clone version of the dictator, at this stage he is worn down, his one hand shaking out of control and the fantasies he maintains beliefs in makes for a lot of awkward moments down in his bunker as he orders various Generals about, talking about troop movements and at one point appointing a new commander of the air force – talking about that there is much work to be done (with the air force annihilated that would still be an epic understatement).

The delusional and fatalistic crowd of the Führerbunker , led by Evan Braun are holding parties, drinking their worries away and just living for the moment as each moment could be their last. Meanwhile above children are blowing up Soviet tanks with 88mm AA guns and earning medals and ceremonial handshakes from Hitler.  The recreation of the last public appearance outside of the bunker by Hitler where he congratulates the teenagers and children for their soldiering is one that says it all. All able men are either dead or maimed; children hold the line as Germany makes its last stand.
Our buddy Thomas Kretschmann (the Lieutenant in Stalingrad and German captain in U-571) makes another memorable appearance as Hermann Fegelain, Eva Brauns insubordinate brother in law. An officer who has had it and knows the shit has hit the fan a long time ago. This is not a movie that shows a lot of battle sequences, rather it shows the chaotic atmosphere of being inside a battle zone. I think it does a good job at describing and showing the confusion and breakdown of society. And this movie as a whole is amazing, there are so many memorable scenes in this movie, so many good portrayals – from Bruno Ganz Hitler, to the woman playing the cold hearted bitch Helga Goebbels, the German doctor, the officer  stoically reports to the HQ to “get shot” but gets a promotion (the scene when he’s talking to the guards if fantastic). The entire movie and how its put together is a masterpiece. Ironically it shares the 8.4 score of Inglorious Basterds.

I remember watching this movie at the cinema when it premiered here in Sweden and there was a complete dead silence throughout the movie, people were just watching the movie completely mesmerized – not even bothering to chew their popcorn with open mouths as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks as people tend to do at the movies. No one talked, laughed, or made noise. It was the best cinema experience of my life.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, a must see! And if ever there would be a “trilogy” box released chronicling the WW2 such a boxed set would do best to contain Stalingrad, Das Boot and Der Untergang. They should really show these movies in schools instead of letting students read those shitty short descriptions of historical events with zero emotion attached to it. Would give the kids a better understanding and respect for history.

Summing up,

Inglorious Basterds – a weak 6. Again. It’s boring to give it the same score as every other Hollywood movie in my mashup but Christoph Waltz along with a handful of scenes save this movie from being a complete dud.

Der Untergang – 9.5/10.
The cast, story and the atmosphere is mindblowing.


  1. I haven't seen downfall, maybe I should... And yes Inglorious Basterds is so overrated.. Why in the flying fuck would hitler and top nazi-shitheads sit in a little cinema with like two guards.. Come on! And gore.. more gore and scalpes.. And I would love to see a movie about Landa. Now that is a movie with substance and meaning!! Haha!

  2. I agree with you 100% on both counts- one is brilliant, one wasted two hours of my life that I'll never get back.

  3. A much belated thanks for both reviews. I haven't seen either one yet. I'll certainly avoid "Inglorious Basterds," but I have to be in the right mood to see something like "Der Untergang." I already have "Das Boot" in my DVD collection!


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