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The beauty, the beast

movie-reviews Updated: Sep 11, 2010 00:09 IST

Hindustan Times
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Triumph of the Will
Leni Riefenstahl
Enlighten Home Library R 399
Rating: *****

You know that this isn't one of those BBC World War II documentaries right from the opening scene. There's something vaguely familiar about the shots of billowing clouds taken from an airplane and the tinny but bombastic music playing along. You realise quickly enough that it's a black and white predecessor of that 'choppers' scene in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. But Leni Riefenstahl's legendary documentary is — paradoxically (?) for a propaganda movie showcasing one of the highest moments of the Third Reich, the mammoth Nazi rally at Nuremberg on September 5, 1934 — gentler, less raucous, more grandiose and more tender than Coppola's 'Vietnam' feature.

Along with Hitler salutes and the 'Roman' opulence of iron eagles and the swastika-festooned gathering itself, we find playful moments before the rally: young soldiers shaving, wrestling, jumping on makeshift trampolines, playing the fool. Riefenstahl uses the finest techniques of cinematography and film editing to narrate a story that has a beauty that's unsettling because we see it in the only context that a Nazi propaganda documentary can be seen: evil in its grandest.

Seeing the panoramic shots, the close-ups, the sets and the lightings constructed specially to be captured in this film, we not only see the Third Reich at its most bewitching, but also glimpse things yet to come: stadium-size rock concerts, the giant ball of energy of football crowds, the National Films Division-style visual recordings of 'national pride and progress'... Riefenstahl's masterpiece is hypnotic — in its sheer aesthetic beauty and in the success with which it undoubtedly manages to beautify a gangrenous ideology over 109 minutes.

Schnitzel's list

Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino
Big Home Video/Universal
Rating: ****

Now to flip the coin and witness another thing of beauty. This is Quentin Tarantino's finest movie. Or, to put it in another way, the Quentin Tarantino movie that will appeal most to the director's more mature admirers who may have grown a wee bit tired of his showing off his film history knowledge and pop culture references.

Put simply, this is a classic Western juxtaposed in World War II iconography. A group of American Jews under the nom de guerre 'basterds' go deep into Nazi-occupied France under the leadership of the Southern-drawling Injun-descended Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) with one objective: "To kill Nazis."

The script, for a change, is taut, and the side story-turned-main story of a Jewish girl (Mélanie Laurent) who survives a massacre and is later wooed by a German war hero is told with a very un-Tarantino quality: passion.

The hero of the film, though, is the villain: Nazi Colonel Hans Landa ('The Jew Hunter'), played with superbly controlled manic-genteel menace by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz (who deservedly won an Oscar for this role).

This DVD would have got all five stars weren't it bereft of any special features (it doesn't even have a director's commentary where one would have expected Tarantino to say something about a scene in which he used his own hands in a close up to 'throttle' a character).

Not to mention the silliness of splicing out key scenes (such as one showing a 'basterd' scalping a Nazi) as if we're so squeamish.