“Inglourious Basterds” (2009)


Inglourious Basterds ” is a favorite with most of my students because of its outrageousness. It is, after all, a Quentin Tarantino project, and although it is an American movie, I am recommending it for German afficionados with several caveats.

1. The movie has no basis in reality even though several historical characters have a (fictitious) part in it. Adolf Hitler makes an appearance, as do Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering, and Martin Bormann. Leni Riefenstahl and her Nazi propaganda movies are referenced as well. But that’s where reality ends. The plot is fiction and should be taken as such, but similar units did exist in the U.S. military. ZDF produced a history documentary about “Die wahren Inglourious Basterds” (in German, but some of the sound bites are in English).

2. If you are not familiar with Tarantino’s directing style, please be aware that his reputation is partly built on outrageous blood-letting, and this movie, while showing considerable restraint for Tarantino standards, is no exception. There are some very graphic scenes of violence.

3. The movie is in English, French, and German, with English subtitles where necessary. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot Italian! This multilingualism, while somewhat unusual for American movie watchers, is one of the best attributes of “Inglourious Basterds”. There is quite a large amount of German dialogue in the movie, and there are real German actors delivering it—unlike the “old days” when German parts were often played by American actors with atrociously fake German accents. Til Schweiger and Daniel Brühl, both big names in the German movie industry, add a lot to “Inglourious Basterds,” and Christoph Waltz, an Austrian-German actor, is deliciously despicable.

Tarantino took care to make the various languages as authentic as possible. Adolf Hitler, for example, is portrayed with a fairly accurate German accent and intonation. There is also a British affiliate of the “Basterds” who speaks German quite flawlessly, except that his pronunciation is just a little off—enough for a Gestapo officer to realize that he is not German. The Gestapo officer calls the British officer “Herr Heimatlos” because his accent is without a real home anywhere in Germany. But what really dooms the British officer is his un-German finger-counting method. He makes the faux-pas of starting his count with the pointer, holding up the three middle fingers of his hand when he orders three whiskeys, instead of the thumb through middle finger the way a German person would.

In the end, the movie does not have any real winners. The body count is high, and reading any kind of moral into the story is probably futile. Suffice it to say that Brad Pitt and his thick Tennessee-molasses accent survive while all of the major French- and/or German-speaking characters (except one) meet an unpleasant demise. For college-aged students, “Inglourious Basterds” is certainly of interest as a showcase of clashing cultures and languages, but it is not suitable for high-school students. Similarly, if you don’t have the stomach for graphic violence or expect historical significance and accuracy, this movie is not for you.

Here is a link to the official trailer of “Inglourious Basterds”

Link to the official German trailer

To make sure your don’t make a similarly fatal finger-counting error, here’s a comparative chart of German and American finger-counting etiquette.

finger counting 2


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.