Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France…
What Inglourious Basterds Means to Us
Back in my days of obsessively perusing IMDB, I would visit certain pages so frequently, that their trivia is etched into my brain. A good year and a half before it came out, the only cast for Inglourious Basterds was Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis. They were only rumored but those rumors set my mind afire. I pictured the ultimate men on a mission movie, with more action than I could take. I dreamed about what this movie could be for so long, I basically had the damn thing already finished in my mind’s eye. And when I finally saw it, that idea washed away completely the moment Landa opened his mouth.
You’d think the lack of action would be disappointing to me since I was so eagerly anticipating it but it never once crossed my mind. Instead, I was drunk in love with Tarantino’s characters and dialogue and the small hints of a better movie we didn’t see. I wanted a movie with Landa. I wanted a Nazi scalping adventure movie. I wanted to hang out with Shoshana at the movie theater. I just wanted to hear these characters talk and talk and talk and in the case of some of them, kill and kill and kill. Tarantino has always been my favorite director, so I believe he’s right when he breaks the fourth wall and says “this just might be my masterpiece.”
It wasn’t until my second viewing of Inglorious Basterds that I fully appreciated it. Sure I enjoyed it initially, but I think it was due to the tension being close to unbearable at certain points that I just didn’t fully embrace it. Of course on rewatch, it’s this very quality that makes the film so special. A number of the anxiety-inducing moments would now go down as some of my favorite Tarantino scenes. If not my favorite of all time, from any director. The opening scene with Hans Landa always gets the credit but there are so many more fantastic moments. Strudel anyone? Or how about a few rounds of the name game in a basement tavern.
Another aspect I always appreciate about Inglorious Basterds is the dark humor. It’s a film that veers wildly from shocking violence to unbearable tension and thankfully to laugh out loud comedy. For such swings in tone, it’s masterful work to ensure the overall experience isn’t a jarring one. And that goes a long way to establish this as another Tarantino masterpiece and one of my all-time favorites.
Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece
Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director of all time but his writing is what got my attention at first. True Romance was so damn good and his name coming across the screen as writer made me want to keep up with his career. This led me to Reservoir Dogs and that made me fall in love with his work. I’ve watched everything of his multiple times and I honestly never thought he would make anything better than Pulp Fiction. You know that little movie that exploded and made him a must-see director.
And then I saw Inglourious Basterds. I was simply blown away from the opening shot (which we will get to later) till the credits started to roll. To me, he had done it. Tarantino had made his masterpiece. I believe he even thought himself with his fourth-wall-breaking when Aldo Raine looks at the camera after carving a swastika into Landa’s forehead and says “I think this just might be my masterpiece”. His characters, his words, his shots, just everything was perfect. Well, maybe not Eli Roth but I can overlook that one thing.
All of Tarantino’s work has been infused with his love of cinema. Why would it be any different with a war movie? I mean he literally has a Jewish survivor gain ownership of a local theater that ultimately helps end the war. It was a departure from what we were used to from him but exactly what you would have expected when the news broke that Tarantino was making a Word Wold II film. Of course, we got fantastic and intricate characters with incredible dialogue. One of the best aspects of his war film is how he mixes realism of the time with his own brand of caricatures. His balance of shocking violence, excruciating intense moments, and hilarity is not something many directors can deliver. However, Tarantino manages all this flawlessly to place front and center his growth as a filmmaker.
The Opening Scene
I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false, are often revealing.
Even if you don’t agree that the entirety of Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s masterpiece, one thing we can all agree on is the absolute masterclass he displayed in arguably one of the greatest scenes in cinema history period. And it comes in the opening scene. We get a beautiful shot of the French countryside as we see a man chopping away at a stumped in his yard while a woman hangs some sheets on the line. Then the tension sets in as we see a couple of vehicles in the distance.
This scene not only acts as a prologue but also introduces us to one of the greatest characters of all time that is played by Christoph Waltz who gives a legendary performance. He introduces himself, in perfect French, as a German Colonel who is simply there for a routine follow-up. We know he is a devil mainly because he is a Nazi but because he is so damn charismatic that we know he is up to no good. Waltz and French actor Denis Ménochet, who plays the farmer, share pleasantries and what seems to be an innocent back and forth but Tarantino has set the tension in motion with a classic Hitchcock maneuver. Ratchet up the tension by telling the audience there is a bomb under the table long before it goes off. As this somewhat arbitrary follow-up about the whereabouts of a missing Jewish family seems to be going smooth, Tarantino pans underneath the floorboards of the house directly below where the conversation is taking place to show us the bomb by way of a hiding family.
Col. Landa’s pleasant demeanor and talkative nature take us through his mindset and why he has been delegated the duty of rounding up the missing Jewish families and Hilter’s request. He seems like a soldier simply doing his due diligence until he flips a switch and the ticking of the bomb begins to speed up and get inaudibly louder. Tarantino allows Waltz to disarm the farmer along with the viewers with his charisma that we all pretty much forgot he is there for one thing. No, it’s not just to drink a glass of milk in one of the most creepy ways. It’s to wipe a race of people from the earth. When he lets us know what we already know about the bomb under the table, we are now holding our breath to see what is actually going to happen.
This was just the opening of Tarantino’s masterpiece. It could have ended there and I would have been satisfied. He packs more in that opening 20 minutes than most directors can do in a lifetime of work.
Oooh, that’s a bingo! Is that the way you say it? “That’s a bingo?”
How many villains from all of cinema history can you think of that match Hans Landa’s combination of charisma and air of terror? The man exudes both, sometimes in the same scene. Like a terrible inversion of Sherlock Holmes, Landa does, as his nickname suggests, hunts Jews and he’s shockingly proficient at his job. He can sniff them out like a truffle-hunting pig and has no problem executing entire families.
He’s also morally complex. Disposing of Jews is only one facet of his personality. On one hand, he’ll kill traitors that betray Germany but then on another, he’ll kill Hitler himself, in order to secure the best plan for himself. He played the game as well as he could have but he sorely underestimated Aldo Raine, which would prove to be a huge mistake. Can’t win them all.
What are your feelings about Inglourious Basterds? Do you consider it to be Tarantino’s masterpiece?