Once upon a time, in Nazi occupied France…
is the tag line of Quentin Tarantino’s latest masterpiece, which debuted last year at the 62nd Annual Cannes Film Festival. The film goes by the name “Inglourious Basterds” and its title addresses the many cast of characters in this film who are out for some good Jewish revenge – the main reoccuring theme of this film.
It is no secret that this film was, by far, my favorite film of 2009 and that I am rooting for it to sweep up every Academy Award it’s nominated for this year, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Best Original Screenplay.
The film opens up with a French farmer and his family in the countryside, as the SS German command pulls up to interrogate Monsieur LaPadite, the dairy farmer, regarding a missing Jewish family, which is believed to be hiding in the area (or under LaPadite’s floorboards). From here, in this brilliant opening scene-we meet a Tarantino handpicked Austrian unknown by the name of Christoph Waltz who brilliantly steps onto the screen as the evil SS Officer ‘Hans Landa’. From the moment we set our eyes on him, we realize that a. he terrifies us, and b. Tarantino certainly knows how to pick up an actor out of obscurity and turn them into something truly brilliant.
As Tarantino divides this film into 5 chapters,we pick up from there, where we ultimately meet the film’s leading heroine-who is the only survivor in the massacre of her family: French-Jewish ‘Shoshanna Dreyfuss’ (played by the EXQUISTIE Melanie Laurent-again, a Tarantino pick). We fast forward to her 4 years later in Paris, as a cinema owner; survivor-living under false papers, and with a secret and need for vengeance. During this sequence of events, we meet a young Nazi War Hero who ironically pursues Shoshanna at her theatre (played by Germany’s excellent Daniel Bruhl), and a group of American-Jewish soldiers,led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who are in France to do “one thing, and one thing only – kill Nazis”. The brilliance of the Basterds is the fact Tarantino unwittingly changes history with them. He puts the underdog out: and not mindlessly, puts them ahead- out for revenge and well…Nazi scalps. Ironic?
As the film progresses we learn that The War Hero has a film premiere, financed by Joseph Goebbles, and they want it shown in Shoshanna’s cinema in Paris. What the Germans do not understand is that there is a subplot of British secret service officials, with the help of the German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark (German-American beauty Diane Kruger), to pull an “Operation Kino” and set fire while locking inside every single Nazi in attendance.
However, Shoshanna Dreyfuss, who never crosses paths with The any of the other “Basterds” has a plan of her own with her beloved black projectionist boyfriend Marcel (Jacky Ido). She too, will also allow the German High Command to her cinema, and sacrifice everything to end the war, by burning it down with everyone locked inside-seeking out the revenge that she longs for.
More so, the highlights of the film are mainly the brilliant, large cast. Lead by Waltz, Laurent, Pitt, and Kruger, the supporting cast is equally as emotional, affective, and/or terrifying. The excuciating opening scene at the dairy farm, is matched by a middle central piece of the film when undercover Basterds meet (Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger) to discuss “Operation Kino”, and are met with a very suspicious and intimidating Gestapo Officer Mahor Hellstrom (played by the INCREDIBLE, haunting German actor August Diehl). This tedious, and central scene to the film is a game of Schnapps, and underlying truths, and the cover is ultimately blown-not by a dead giveaway, but by Hellstrom’s talent to spot the “non German” hand gesture of the number “3″. As a result of this, much like Cinderella’s story- our favorite antagonist, Hans Landa, will seek out Bridget Von Hammersmark like a Cinderella who has lost her slipper. “Well, if the shoe fits, right”?
This takes us ultimately to Chapter 5- “Operation Kino”. Undoubtedly, the most touching, wonderful, and the heart wrenching finale of this film. This scene draws Shoshanna, the Basterds, the entire German High Command-including Goebbles, Landa, and yes-Hitler-into this event- in one room for what else? A glorious German propaganda film premiere. Dressed in all red, we see Shoshanna and Marcel prepare to end the war, on their terms, preparing their plan and death to the wonderfully matched, ironic theme song “Cat People (Putting out Fire)” by David Bowie. Shoshanna is a Jewish hero, a martyr even. Especially when applying her warrior makeup to a fitting, foreshadowing song in the background. We almost forget she is just a teenage Jew in hiding, who has carried this secret for 4 years. Laurent truly breaks our heart. Ultimately, Tarantino projects the power of what a film screen can project, but having Shoshanna lock in every single Nazi, and project on her cinema screen a film of herself. “A message for Germany” she delivers, and boldy asks the audience to look deep into her eyes as she says they are going to die. And why? Because she “is the face of Jewish vengeance”. What a powerful scene, as we see the reversal effect on the idea of revenge, as the cinema burns down into flames.
The plot seems far fetched, sure. It seems “plausible, but not really”. And it obviously did not happen. But the fact that Tarantino uses these characters to show a deeper meaning-that of humanity, war, and the power of cinema is an achievement of its own. So much so, that the film just works. Within the many intertwining almost-themes of “Inglourious Basterds” , revenge and ultimately the downfall of revenge and how it breeds to no good is a final verdict of the film. The war does end, on this night in Paris, but not everyone wins, and not without consequences. That is the beauty of Tarantino and his work. His detailed camera work, rich colors of emotions, editing, casting, and song choices make this film a must see.
During the final shot of a literal point of view angle, Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt and his Basterd solider, BJ Novak) stare directly into the camera after capturing and “carving” Hans Landa, and state “This might just be my masterpiece”. If this echos true to reality, this indeed is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece.
**Now showing at the Landmark Sunshine Theaters in Manhattan.