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Yes We Cannes!

So, Cannes is well and truly underway. And without (for the most part) the bitchiness or grumbling that usually accompanies it. What? Journalists might actually enjoy a film festival? Pish-posh. Still, despite the huge backlash against Lars Von Trier, the festival is going down a treat. When a Disney film can open Cannes to universal acclaim (no easy feat), you know something’s off. With the general lack of pithiness that defines Cannes journalism, I don’t know what to make of coverage of Inglourious Basterds. The reviews are mixed at best. I miss the Tarantino who won the Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction. What happened?

Quentin Tarantino, master of the pop culture cocktail

Quentin Tarantino, master of the pop culture cocktail

I remember when Tarantino used to sit on the border of nichedom and the mainstream. Reservoir Dogs was an off-beat heist movie that dealt with the bit of a heist that usually gets glossed over (the aftermath); True Romance was an off-beat thriller with one of the best casts in memory (Dennis Hopper; Brad Pitt; Christopher Walken); Pulp Fiction was an off-beat look at gang culture in Los Angeles and how those stories overlap (think Short Cuts for the 1990s). The trend here is that Tarantino took your typical mainstream genres and premises, and then viewed them through a slightly skewed filter. It was a fresh look at any of the above. Hell, even when he did a relatively straightforward crime film (Jackie Brown), there was still a certain je ne sais que (to keep with the French theme) that raised it above the majority.

After that, things got funky. I love Kill Bill. It seemed like a love letter drafted by Tarantino. It was a mish-mash of very eastern and western styles. It’s the kind of project that a director does once in a career – or at least punctuates quite a bit. It was new, it was daring, it was snazzy. It was unlike anything that the mainstream had seen before. However, it does still seem like an incomplete masterpiece. I’m still waiting for the restored Whole Bloody Affair special edition presentation.

Remember when we thought Kill Bill was going to be the "odd one out" of Tarantino's career?

Remember when we thought Kill Bill was going to be the "odd one out" of Tarantino's career?

The problem with films that are so outside the norms are that directors who want to retain their darling status generally have to follow them up with something ‘safer’ – the kind of film people have grown to expect from them. Tarantino jumped straight into Grindhouse, producing a carefully crafted hommage to 1970s exploitation flicks. The films are very “love it or hate it”. They’re certainly novel and experimental (both qualities to be lauded in the era of mass-produced trash), but they’re… not very good beyond their curiousity value. Inglourious Basterds looks to be another project that is worth a look for its curiousity value, a fringe and quirky product that is ‘out there’, and the reviews aren’t leading me to expect another masterpiece.

This is incredibly indulgent of Tarantino. Most directors struggle to get one of their own ‘masterpieces’ to screen (his idol, Sergio Leone, fought tooth-and-nail to get Once Upon a Time in America made). Tarantino has produced three in a row. He’s one of the best directors of his generation, and you have give him credit for refusing to be boxed in. On the other hand, the quality of his productions is higher when he positions himself at the edge of this indulgent geekdom, as an ambassador to the mainstream, rather than simply an exporter. He might do well to learn by his close friend Robert Rodriguez, who is following up Grindhouse with a relaunch of Predator.

There are moments when I think the old Tarantino genius may be back – his talk of doing Casino Royale with Pierce Brosnan; his fantastic directorial stint on CSI. I’ll see Inglourious Basterds, but I really want to see what he’s going to follow up with.

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