Sunday, January 13, 2013

Monday Round-Up/Homeschooling With Tarantino

This week we found ourselves inching back into a "normal" routine after the holidays. Trisha was VERY excited to get back to school. She attends a small private school, part time, as a homeschooler.

The teens and I are back to studying the French Resistance during World War II. We watched Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. This may seem an odd "curriculum" choice since this film isn't historical -- it's an alternate history. The filmmaker used actual historical events in World War II-era Europe as a framework and embroidered his own characters and historical events.

I think it's a great film, and though dark, it is quite entertaining. I felt it would be a good springboard for discussion. (Note: Common Sense Media deems this film "Not For Kids" -- you can get more info here. As an aside, one thing about CSM's review annoys me. They claim the violence in this film will hold teens' interest, but they may be bored because it's so "talky." Am I the only one who finds it insulting to teens to assume they won't appreciate complex, interesting dialogue? )

Brief Summary of the Film: 

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of American Jewish soldiers plan to assassinate Nazi leaders. Meanwhile a theater owner, the child of Holocaust victims, creates a similar plan.

A Few Discussion Points From This Movie:

The Holocaust:  (Warning: This section contains some spoilers.)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the excruciating opening scene of this film is more telling and memorable than a curriculum on the Holocaust. It is beautifully acted by Christoph Waltz, who plays Hans Landa, the Nazi "Jew Hunter," and Denis Ménoche, who portrays Perrier LaPadite, a dairy farmer and father of three adolescent daughters.

When Landa arrives at LaPadite's farm, we suspect he is hiding Jews. The look in his eyes is one of sad resignation, as if he knew this would happen eventually. Nevertheless, he does a convincing job of feigning innocence. So while Landa deliberately draws out the conversation, delighting in sadistically toying with his victim, we hold out some hope. It is agonizing. And the dead look in LaPadite's eyes, when the scene reaches its grim conclusion, may stick with me forever.

This scene has the potential to be a great springboard for discussion, and there is a wealth of great resources, for all ages, on the Holocaust. My daughter did an extensive self-directed study on this topic when she was about twelve.

German Occupation/The French Resistance in World  War II:

Hiding Jewish citizens was one of many forms of resistance to German occupation. We've been discussing the French resistance, and we used this lesson plan on Inglorious Basterds from Awesome Stories to review basic information about World War II and the French resistance.

We've also watched Au Revoir Les Enfants, which I loved. I'd also like us to see Army of Shadows.

We've also been reading the Resistance Trilogy, graphic novels about the French resistance. These are very well done, spotlighting events in the war through the eyes of three French kids who participate in the resistance. This is not contrived or unrealistic, as many children and teens took great personal risks working against the Nazis.

These books are recommended for ages 12 and up, but my 9-year-old seems to enjoy them too. In my opinion, the stories are complex enough -- and the characters sufficiently multilayered and interesting -- to interest older teens and adults.

The Role of Film-Making in War-Time Propaganda:

Several actual historical figures are portrayed in Inglorious Basterds, including Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda. He essentially took charge of German cinema during the war, ensuring that all films shown instilled citizens' faith in the war effort, and the movie does a good job of spotlighting that.  This lesson plan on Inglorious Basterds from Awesome Stories includes information about Nazi propaganda.

We did a fairly detailed discussion of propaganda, including Nazi propaganda, when we did a unit on George Orwell's Animal Farm several years ago. We talked about this after watching Inglorious Basterds, and we watched part of The Eternal Jew. I dare you to sit through 20 minutes of this piece of anti-Semitic propaganda without feeling physically sick. As a point of interest, in the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds, Hans Landa talked about an often-used analogy between Jewish people and rats. This analogy is used in The Eternal Jew.

We discussed the fact that films were also used as propaganda in the U.S. -- to "sell" the war effort to the American public -- due to close collaboration between Hollywood and President Roosevelt.

 It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Posts This Week:
Reading This Week:

Finished Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's an unconventional murder mystery weaving together several family dramas. The novel opens with three case histories, each featuring a family experiencing violence or loss. Investigator Jackson Brodie finds himself involved in all these cold cases while balancing other investigations, fatherhood, and a difficult personal life.

Atkinson has a flair for rich character development and for creating people who, on one level, seem like the proper, witty English people you'd expect to populate a cozy mystery but, at the same time, are somewhat dark and edgy. There are also issues of socioeconomic class folded into the mix, making the story even richer.

Reading The Stranger by Albert Camus
from Goodreads: Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd."
Also Reading My Journey as a Combat Medic: From Desert Storm to Operation Enduring Freedom  by Patrick Thibeault
from Goodreads: The story of a combat medic who served in two different wars.
The author writes the true life experienes having served over 20 yrs in both the active army in the well storied 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment as a Paratrooper and Flight Medic during Operation Desert Storm and again in Afghanistan in his Army National Guard unit, the 76th Infantry Brigade.
Watched This Week:

Inglorious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino

Funny Games by Michael Haneke -- I had kind of a love/hate relationship with this movie. It was definitely my least favorite of the three Haneke films I've seen so far. Nevertheless, it was an impressive movie in some ways, and the acting was outstanding.

Oranges and Sunshine by Jim Loach

Code Unknown by Michael Haneke -- This is a complex film about fractured relationships and class- and race-related prejudice. It is very slow, spotlighting a lot of the minutiae of people's day-to-day lives, revealing life as it really is. Like Caché, it features characters who seem multilayered although very little is revealed about them. I may write a proper review after giving this a second viewing.

Mulholland Drive by David Lynch -- This is the first Lynch movie I've watched since I saw Blue Velvet in the mid-1980s. It falls into the WTF? genre -- O.K., I know that isn't properly a film genre, but it should be. It's a beautiful, strange movie in which the narrative blends seamlessly with long dream sequences and odd hallucinatory images. It's tremendously entertaining with a magnificent performance by Naomi Watts.


  1. I read The Stranger in high school and clearly missed the point because your description doesn't sound like the book I read. Of course, it was 40 years ago and I might be mis-remembering the book. Come see what I read last week here. Happy reading!

  2. I have Case Histories on my shelf and plan to get to it soon

    Have a great reading week!
    Shelleyrae@Book’d Out

  3. I admire that you were able to sit through Mulholland Drive. I think that's the last David Lynch I saw and decided I just can't handle his stuff, lol. WTF is the right genre for sure!

    Case Histories sounds really interesting, I may have to pick that one up.

  4. I agree with you on finding that a tad 'insulting'. My son was 15 when he watched Inglorious Bastards, he's not much of a reader but he didn't find the dialogue boring. It completely held his attention and he was certainly able to participate in intelligent discussion regarding it lol.

    Off to check out your review of Flesh. Enjoy your reads this week :)

  5. Homeschooling sounds so interesting! I've always meant to watch Inglorious Basterds but I've never got round to it - I really should.

    I should also re-read The Stranger soon. I read it very quickly a few years ago, and I'm not sure that I took it all in.

    All the best.

  6. I'm just inbetween watching Kill Bill and moving on to Inglourious in mt Tarantino marathon. Your kids are lucky to have such a cool teacher, showing them Tarantino films!

    1. A Tarantino marathon? How cool is that! I haven't seen the Kill Bill movies.

  7. Inglorious Basterds is a mind blowing film isn't it?? Whew. Yay for homeschooling (I homeschool too! lol)

    1. I love homeschooling! :) And as the kids grow up, it keeps getting cooler.

  8. This is one of those films I didn't think I'd even like but I ended up loving it. The violence are too intense for me in some parts but I LOVE the dialog, the script is just brilliant. I'm glad Christoph Waltz walked away with the Oscar, can't imagine anyone else that'd be better in that role. That opening scene is sooo intense though, I needed to take a few breaks whilst watching this to calm myself down, ahah. Great post, Steph!

    1. I know! That opening scene is so beautiful, and it's agony to sit through.

  9. I read 'The Stranger' by Camus a few years ago - I found it quite confronting but very thought provoking! I will be interested to hear what you think. :)

    1. I've read the first half of the book so far. It's a difficult novel to connect with (deliberately so, I think) but beautiful.

  10. Great history lesson. Tarantino always makes things more interesting. :)

    Glad to see you liked Code Unknown and Mulholland Drive. I need to rewatch the latter, but I really love the former.

    1. I really need to watch Code Unknown a second time, because I feel like there were things I missed. Haneke has this wonderful and frustrating way of briefly hinting at important things about the characters. :-) Definitely an amazing film! My 18 y/o really liked it too. But neither of us liked it quite as much as Cache.

  11. So glad you liked Mulholland Drive! It's such a terrific movie, but it does have the scariest moment I've ever seen - the one behind the Winkies restaurant. It's probably the reason I only saw it twice :)

    1. That scene behind Winkies was some seriously creepy shit! I love the part where the two guys are talking in Winkies and one is telling the other about his dream. And you wonder whether *this* is a dream. I have no idea what it all meant, but I liked it. Oddly, I have a lot of dreams like that, where I am explaining a weird dream I just had.

    2. There is this theory which I agree with that the creature behind the Winkies symbolizes Diane's guilt and the ugliness of what she did. This is seriously the movie that you can think about for weeks.

  12. It sounds like you are having a really interesting unit on WWII! My younger sisters were homeschooled and I taught one of my sisters English for a year. It's so fun to put materials together and find things that the kids really enjoy.

    I'm reading the sequel to Case Histories right now! I'm interested in reading Atkinson's standalone novels too.

  13. Inglorious Basterds is an amazing movie. It never grows old and does an excellent job of showing the resistance as well as the indisiousness of the Germans. I agree that Christoph Waltz is fabulous. What a creative lesson plan!!

  14. You are definitely a cool mother!!
    As a teacher, I also resent people thinking that some sentences are too complex for teenager. We should let them hear it first before putting judgement on it.

    I want to see Inglorious Bastards despite the fact I hate Pitt (sorry for the fans, but I really can't like him)...but I haven't got the chance yet. I will one day.

  15. I think that is awesome that your teaching through the use of Tarantino.


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