Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Team Experience: Oh, Those Basterds

As you may have noticed some blog buddies of mine have been pitching in randomly of late as my off-cinema life has pulled me away. Oh, to live only for the cinema! To get you acquainted with these life savers o' mine, I've decided to gather them as a collective once a week or so and ask them to share their individual feelings on a question posed by me. Yes, I'm a control freak.

Question for the Team
What's your favorite moment/performance/anything about Inglourious Basterds?

SPOILERS ahead obviously.
David: Maybe I was just blinded by the beauty. Or maybe it's my secretly perverse soul. But easily the most striking moment of Inglourious Basterds for me is the reciprocal shootings of Fredrick (Daniel Brühl) and Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent). Tarantino has a reputation for finding strange beauty in his moments of graphic violence, and it's no different here. It's the surprising possibility that Shosanna maybe did care about Fredrick after all, trumped by the shock (nonetheless prefigured by Shosanna being decked out in a vibrant blood-red dress) of him turning over and gunning her down. The cliche of the two young pretty leads falling in love overriden by their politics and bloodlust. It's the fall being filmed in slow-motion that does it, I think - she was ready for death, but not in this way. A moment of majesty amongst the madness.
Adam: It's Shosanna's vengeance that lingers most through all the smoldering celluloid. Her triumphant escape at the film's start and joyously maniacal act of resolve by the film's close is ultimately what elevates the movie for me. She's far more clever and efficient at killing those Nazi bastards than any of the Basterds we came here to see. Shosanna's like the French-Jewish Black Mamba. Quiet, calculating, and wholly deserving of the blood she's about to spill. She doesn't need a checklist reminding her to Kill Bill or Adolf Hitler, she gathers all her foes in one locale and does them away swiftly and with cinematic splendor. In true Tarantino style he finds the perfect musical accompaniment, this time in David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)" as Shosanna dons lipstick and warpaint, readying to play host to her prey and bid a fiery, unforgettable farewell. After years of silent rage, Shosanna burns the house down and shares an exuberant laugh with the viewing audience, who've likewise held their breath through hours of tense conversation and Nazi loathing. Oh what a (cinephile's) relief it is...
David and Adam both took to Shosanna but
I personally have to go with the underground bar and card game scene which centers around Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) and the film critic lieutenant (Michael Fassbender). As noted in the vodcast, there's an undeniably wealth of well edited tension and ingeniously scripted surprise in that particular scene but the cherry on top is that the movie characters are playing a game of assumed identities (the character cards on their heads) over their reel life game of assumed identities (double agents / faux Germans).

BeRightBack and Robert refused to play my reindeer game in the way I intended. But maybe you share their gripes or their hold-out feelings?
BeRightBack: The thing that bothers me, even as I loved every minute of watching it in terms of its energy and humor, is that Tarantino goes out of his way to tell us that he is talking in the language of kitsch, not history. At the end, the movie points outside of itself to history anyway. The clean white sheet invaded by black-clad, menacingly debonair Nazis in the first scene turns into a burning movie screen haunted by Jewish anguish and revenge by the end. But the foregrounding of virtuosity throughout the movie undercuts the power of this cinematic catharsis; if these aren’t “real” Nazis, then these aren’t “real” Jews.

Consider the first scene: a discussion is conducted in a room under which a Jewish family is hiding from certain death. The tension ratchets up with every exchange, every beat. At one point, the Nazi takes out an enormous pipe; it is impossible not to laugh at this. The punchline has been set up perfectly, the performances have been calibrated for maximum effect. None of this would have worked without the Jews beneath the floorboards, providing the necessary tension for the punchline. But the scene is not about the Jews, it is about the punchline. So is the movie, until the end. And this is what doesn’t work for me.


Robert:
Quite frankly I haven't seen it yet. Why not? Because every time a Quentin Tarantino movie comes out, its like the love/hate relationship that the film community has with him plays itself out in my brain. When I'm watching a Tarantino movie I'm entranced by the coolness and stylishness of it all. When I'm not I'm annoyed by the lowbrow as highbrow shtick. I openly despise his cohorts Eli Roth and Robert Rodriguez. And it's difficult to remember how Tarantino has ascended to an entirely different plain than others who do what he does. When Christoph Waltz's name was first floating around as potential Oscar nominee, I thought "yeah right, for a Tarantino movie?" before I remembered that Pulp Fiction garnered 3 acting nods, Jackie Brown got one, and Kill Bill seemed oh so close.

As my id and superego go back and forth it's necessary to take a moment and remember that a film is nothing more than what happens up on that screen when the lights go down. It's not the hyperbolic ranting of fans nor the dismissive musings of academics. And with that in mind I'm starting to look forward to seeing Inglourious Basterds. When opening weekend numbers showed surprising success I found myself doing something unexpected. I found myself rooting for Quentin Tarantino.
I consider you, faithful reader, to be a part of the larger team too. If you'd like to answer the question at hand or respond to any of these notions, do so in the comments. We'll move on from those highly discussable Basterds after this discussion and get back to Oscar talk.

And speaking of... since the new Tarantino made such a popular turnaround post-Cannes, do you see any Oscar nods in its future? Besides Christoph Waltz's Supporting Actor bid. Tech nods, direction, screenplay? Oscar is already famously scalped, is he not?

35 comments:

Derek said...

I'm on board the Shosanna train, although I also give props to the basement bar scene - hell, the entire film deserves props. But, unsuprisingly for this francophile, Mélanie Laurent and her character are tops for me.

I don't see this doing very well at the Oscars, apart from Waltz and possibly a tech or two. It's too audacious for AMPAS.

Glendon said...

I think the entire theatre held its breath when the camera made its first slow turn around the table in the opening chapter, myself included.

Hayden said...

In case you haven't noticed, "1939" is now called "Glorious 39." Hopefully that adjective was chosen to describe Julie Christie's Best Supporting Actress chances.

Sean said...

I loved so much of this film, and disliked a great deal too.

I loved:
Christoph Waltz, especially his insane outburst of laughter when Bridget Von Hammersmark says she's been skiing. That was a personal highlight for me in his performance, I'm not sure why.
I also loved Melanie Laurent, and the beautiful, beautiful vengeance she wreaks upon the Nazis. Her face going up in flames is probably the most gorgeous image of the film.

But I disliked:
Brad Pitt, and his Basterd Brigade. The film took a dip in quality whenever they stepped on screen.

Samuel L. Jackson's voice really annoyed me too. Inconsistent narration is my pet peeve, and the lunacy of having his voice show up just once really annoyed me. I know it's a quirk of Tarantino's, but I reach a point when it's just to much.

BeRightBack said...

Sorry I didn't pick a "favorite"! I didn't really realize I had to. Sorry to be a killjoy.

I had many favorite things, actually, almost all tied to performances. But the one I'll mention here is Julie Dreyfus's witty background work while wearing the most outlandish costumes, including a dress that seems entirely made out of a jaguar, complete with its head as her hat, in the "streudel" scene (I also really liked her in Kill Bill Part 1)

cal roth said...

Melanie Laurent could be a surprise nominee (Yes, I'm obsessed with her).

Henry said...

I'm on board with the entire basement bar sequence, if only 'cause it seemed like the most recent example in a long time of a Mexican standoff that comes through with its intended violent ending. Most Mexican standoffs in movies that I've seen lately has everyone getting away unscathed, which may explain why I gritted my teeth through the entire shootout in Inglorious Basterds. There was a visceral effect in that scene with me.

I gotta also mention that scene because Diane Kruger looked absolutely stunning there and throughout the entire film. I also loved the scene with Bridget and Landa. I cringed when she slowly took the shoe out of his pocket and he gently placed it onto her foot. Of course, the brilliance of it is how gently the scene is played, then the violence is lurched forth suddenly.

One scene I do have a problem with in the movie is the introduction of Eli Roth's character, the infamous "Bear Jew." You hear the ominous clanking of the bat as he's coming out of the tunnel darkness, but Tarantino drags this introduction out way too long. You hear the clangs then nothing. It goes on like this for what seems like five or six cuts/beats/edits. I actually said in the theaters impatiently, "Okay! Get on with it!"

BeRightBack said...

Henry: Also, Eli Roth should not have been allowed to speak.

Anonymous said...

Best Actress

Penélope Cruz "Broken Embraces"
Vera Farmiga "Up in the Air" WIN
Carey Mulligan "An Education"
Meryl Streep "Julie & Julia"
Hilary Swank "Amelia"

Best Actor

George Clooney "Up in the Air"
Daniel Day-Lewis "Nine"
Morgan Freeman "Invictus"
Viggo Mortenson "The Road" WIN
Jeremy Renner "The Hurt Locker"

Daniel

Dorian said...

Whenever I see complaints about Tarentino being in love with his dialogue and kitsch and countless cinematic references, I wonder to myself, isn't that one of the major reasons we go for his work in the first place? That he has this strong and clear cinematic voice like no other, and how great it is that the amalgam of those references aren't just him playing copycat, but instead fusing those sensibilities into something uniquely his own. So for me, bring on the winking at the audience, the anachronistic symbols, the stylized dialogues, the uber-violence, and everything else that makes Quentin tick. (Can you tell by now that I adored "Inglourious Basterds"?) That's the fun and the wonder. This isn't a Ron Howard joint for christsakes. My favorite scene's the farmhouse scene. It's not the unusual or sexy answer, but I loved it, and it set the tone for the rest of the film brilliantly. And Christoph Waltz was utterly genius in it.

adelutza said...

Best film of the year so far, no doubt. It has its problems but it more then compensates with all the great stuff. Great dialogue, great characters. The tavern scene was the best for me , but, overall, the fact that when you thought there're no more surprises , Tarantino manages to do it again.
As for the Academy, if it can't find any love for this, it's its loss, not mine. The film is going to continue to be with me for a long time.

Erich Kuersten said...

I disagree with Berightback's notion that the giant pipe moment in the beginning is a "punch-line" - if anything it's just a slight moment of relief in a scene that has been getting unbearably tense up to that point, and then continues to ratchet up right after.

Comic relief was a staple in all the early horror films for they felt audiences' nerves would shatter without some. The giant pipe IS what a German would smoke, a big old meerschaum, it's not like the movie ends there and off we go merrily home, not a thought remaining for our hiding Jews.

In actuality the Jewish civilian deaths (the family) though offscreen are much more traumatic than most movie deaths, especially as they come almost a relief, which carries its charge of complicit guilt and moral confusion (a GOOD thing), and if you want to get specific, once you follow that train of thought (there's nothing to laugh about when Jews are under your floorboards, mister!) then you must keep going: How dare QT expect us to laugh when Travolta accidentally shoots Marvin in the back seat in Pulp Fiction? that's racist. How dare we laugh at anything when there is so much suffering in the world? These fictional men had families, they had three weeks to retirement!

Read my longer rant on IB here!

PIPER said...

I've seen this twice now. The first time, three scenes stuck out to me. The opening scene, the bar scene and the shoe discovery scene.

Upon second viewing, the farm scene and the bar scene still felt strong. Of course, the shoe scene had lost some of its strength because the tension was gone because I knew what was going to happen.

I am in so much love with Melanie Laurent it's not even funny. Her looking at the window while Bowie's Cat People played. I could watch that for hours. The war paint was a bit too much for me.

But on to the shooting between her and the Nazi. I didn't necessarily see that as Shosanna having remorse so much as I saw that the Nazi may put on a nice boyish face, but he's still a Nazi until the end. I literally gasped when Shosanna got shot. Partly because I was not expecting it and partly because I was upset that she got shot.

But great discussion here.

Landa said...

My favorite scene was seeing Shosanna's face in smoke and hearing that laugh. I also really loved that last scene between her and Zoller and the strudel scene between her and Landa.

I can officially say I'm obsessed with Melanie Laurent. I've seen some of her previous work and have been really impressed. I hope we see more of her in the future. I really like Marion Cotillard, but after seeing a fair share of both of these women's work, I gotta say I think Melanie is the better actress.

I loved Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, he deserves a nomination if not an Oscar win. I can't get over the fact that he spoke FOUR different languages in this movie and did so convincingly. I'm jealous, I wish I could speak more than English and high school Spanish.

Emma said...

My favourite scene in Inglourious Basterds was the Shosanna getting ready/Cat People scene. The way the music and the images coincided was pure poetry. Me loves it long time.

JA said...

Dammit I wish I'd sent something along to you for this Nat instead of deciding I need to watch the movie a second time before I speak on it so at the very least there could be one lone pro-Eli Roth voice haunting this conversation's edges. Because really. I mean... I've gotta pull myself back a bit, it's been years that I've been defending the man and I'm exhausted and impatient and wondering when/if this boring bandwagon will topple over from the sheer predictable exuberance of those screaming for his head. But really. Boring. Really boring. Really! Time will tell, I suppose, but while I certainly don't think his was the greatest performance in the film - I'm on Team Laurent and Team Fassbender there - I thought QT used Roth well and I found his face, his eyes, in that scene in the theater at the end to be positively terrifying in the entirely right way. So many people just have a hard-on for decrying Roth's own cinematic sadism (and god forbid such a thing be expressed) that they can't see the forest for the trees, is all I'm seeing.

NoNo said...

My favorite scene was the streudel/cream scene. The reason I liked it so much is because I knew where it was going (that he would order milk and that he wouldn't recognize her) but I still felt that dread for Shoshanna. Oh that scene was played so well. It wasn't until the next day that I realized the importance of the cream (It's not kosher...didn't know that.) and how it coorelates to the basemant bar scene. Every action that you do or don't do gives away your true identity. Like, Hicox using the wrong fingers. If Shoshanna had not eaten it would have given herself away.

Now Oscar Hopes:

It's Going To Happen: Christopher Waltz- Best Supporting Actor

It Could Happen- Mélanie Laurent- Best Supporting Actress; Best Cinematography; Best Picture (I mean it's 10 now...); Best Costume Design

It's Not Happening-Best Original Screenplay, Any other acting nods

PIPER said...

JA,

I'll show Eli a little love. I hate the guy. HATE HIM. And when I saw his mug on the trailer, I didn't want to see the film because he was attached.

How's the love so far?

But I will say, I actually didn't mind him because he was controlled. I hated Eli in Death Proof because it felt like he was given free will to do whatever. Here, he felt a little more constrained, which was a good thing. And I think for that, he did a good job.

JA said...

Aww Piper, your monumental effort there much appreciated. ;-)

But did you really have time to hate him in Death Proof that much? He had like two minutes at most of screen-time. And yes I don't think he was much "acting" in that role, besides playing up the stereotype everyone attaches to him, the frat-boy douche thing, which I do think he plays up just to annoy people. And lordy does he ever succeed on that count!

Danny King said...

Anything Waltz. Whether it be the opening sequence, the strudel scene, or any other place in the film, he owned it when he was on screen.

Namaste said...

i love love love this movie. the one thing that really stuck out to me is the multilingualism because it’s quite uncommon but it made the scenes more realistic (well, as far as you can call any scene in a tarantino movie "realistic"). though I have to admit that watching the french parts with danish subtitles (i’m currently on exchange in copenhagen) was... umm... challenging cause my french is a little rusty and my danish is even worse.

my favorite scene is the cinderella shoe scene, though every single scene with christoph waltz in it was great.
did i mention that i love the movie?

Christine said...

"But the scene is not about the Jews, it is about the punchline. So is the movie, until the end. And this is what doesn’t work for me."

Yes, BeRightBack! This was my biggest problem with the movie. It's not that the film finds humor in a horrible things, it's that the film is so focused on jokes and film references that it lacks emotional depth. I usually love jokey and heavily referential films and always enjoy a good "Le Corbeau" reference, but there needs to be something else substantial to support the film. For me, this film lacked an emotional heft although it was frequently entertaining.

As is, I thought this was a weak imitation of "The Dirty Dozen" and that the Brad Pitt character would have been much better if played by Lee Marvin.

Benjh said...

Nono > I have no idea what you're talking about, with the cream not being kosher.
First of all, neither the strudel, the cream, or even the glass of milk is kosher if not properly supervised (and in a nazi-occupied Paris hotel, let's bet it's not), second, you have no clue whether soshana eats kosher or not. Let's remember Jews were persecuted and deported whether they were religious or not. Even if only one grandparent out of 4 was Jewish.

What's more, Jewish law clearly states that it can be broken if it's a matter of life or death. So, again, that's not the point of the cream.

What's the point of the cream? I can't figure it out, other than add some tension and wackiness to the Watz character. But knowing QT, there must be some reference I can't point to.

Billy D said...

Well the opening scene is masterful, but my favorite scene overall is the one between Also and Brigid after the latter is shot. Brad Pitt sticking his finger in a bullet wound in Marlene Dietrich/Diane Kruger's leg (on camera!) is just so sadistically delicious. And she gets my favorite line of the movie: "Have I been shot? Yes! I don't think I will be tripping ze light fantastique down the red carpet anytime soon!" Ugh, it's just so literally bloody lyrical and funny.

Of course, "And for the lady, a glass of milk" (in French) is probably the most genius line of the movie. I hope they use it for Waltz's Oscar clip--I love the way he SHOVELS that streudel into his mouth while Shosanna cannot bring herself to even think about picking at the dessert.

Austin said...

Per the cream, I believe Nat made a good point about it in his review.

For each scene of the film, and even the whole film, you have to "wait for the cream". Sure, the strudel by itself is decent. But the cream is what makes it great. That final detail. It has to all come together to be appreciated.

My opinion is a variation of that: Everyone has their own "cream"- their own little detail that is their favorite and elevates a film's quality in their eyes. A line, a scene, a costume piece, a shot, whatever.

The "cream" is essential for a movie. And god love Tarantino, he sure can dollop cream on his movies. I think what he is saying is that movies themselves are not all perfection, but they have moments of it. And those moments are what MAKE those movies perfection in our eyes.

cal roth said...

People who have seen Nine's first screenings are saying Marion Cotillard may go lead when Oscar comes. Watch out: it's a very wise move. Best actress seems a little empty, and the movie may get two other nominations with Cruz and Dench.

It may be a category fraud, but we're talking about Harvey Weinstein. I think you should include Cottilard in your leading chart, too.

Jordan Ruimy said...

The final 20 minutes- I had a huge smile on my face.

Carl said...

This is one of the best cinematic achievements of the year. No one has said anything about the editing yet, but I like "Inglourious Basterds" for an Editing nod which, almost by extension, means a Best Picture nomination as well. The build-up and maintenance of tension in many of these sequences is due to making just the right cut at the right time, which is a very tough thing to pull off in a movie like this.

Drew said...

It's so hard for me to pick... on the one hand, I am absolutely in love with Shosanna and Melanie Laurent's performance, but on the other I was blown away by Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger.

The bar scene and the "Cat People" scene definitely come close, but I think my absolute favourite scene was when Shosanna had finished showing the Nazis around her theatre and told Marcel about her plan. It was the ultimate turning point for both the character and the film, and it's written and acted superbly.

That's also the point when the revenge seems most satisfying. Later, when it is actually put into action, I didn't find it satisfying to watch. The ending was, ultimately, a little bit nasty for me. Just because they're Nazis doesn't mean I'm going to take enjoyment from watching them burn to death, or the gratuitous shots of Hitler's dead body being shot repeatedly. For me, the ending and generally anything to do with the Basterds were the emptiest parts of the film, if only because there was no backstory to make the Basterds seem real or to make their violence emotionally satisfying in the way that Shosanna's was. Because they were so unrealistic and so comedic, the stakes never seemed very high and they seemed to be enjoying things a little too much.

JA said...

Drew, I've read that the bulk of what got cut from the longer edit at Cannes was back-story for the Basterds. So maybe when we get the Director's Cut we'll see some of that stuff. Or I should say if we get a Director's Cut - QT seems less inclined to actually get around to releasing different cuts than other directors; where's Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair anyway???

notanotherblog said...

^Apparently "The Whole Bloody Affair" is done and it's just an issue of releasing it.

Anyway, I'm also a lover of the basement scene (Diane Kruger brings on the fierce) and a hater of Brad Pitt (although I like him everywhere else) and the other Americans. But did anyone else LOVE the British scene for me? I know it's a little thin of a trick to make the British scene using three "non-British" actors, but it just worked well for me.

Robert said...

You really want me to choose between Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, and Christoph Waltz for the best performance? You're mean. It's getting a bit too tight in Best Supporting Actress for me (what with Cruz and Dench and Hudson all seeming like possible year end favorites if Nine isn't hacked to pieces in response to that screening I saw; Cotillard I'll bump to lead to free a spot since her and Cruz are borderline), but between this, (500) Days of Summer, and District 9, my acting categories are filling up far too fast.

I felt the most for Laurent, enjoyed Fassbender and Kruger's back and forth in the bar scene more than any other actor-ly moment in the film, and have the most respect for Waltz's commitment to his difficult character.

My favorite scene is far easier: the fire. Beautiful, brutal, and horrifying.

adri said...

My favorite line was in the projection room when Shosanna said to the boy Nazi, have you lived so long with Nazi bootlickers that you've forgotten what "no" means?

And no, I don't think this was a "Romeo and Juliet" death scene, because his boyish surface was ripped off and he was shown as a clear villain. I was delighted when she shot him (should have given him another bullet from a distance).

Two counterbalancing forces, maybe. I forget what they said the seating capacity of Shosanna's theatre was, but wasn't it close to the same number that the Nazi sniper shot? 300 and 300?

And I'd go with both Christopher Waltz and Melanie Laurent for Supporting performances.

NATHANIEL R said...

adri --- i hope you're right about the numbers. that'd be a detail worth noting. my memory pains me! i should see it again

robert -- i agree that the acting has been strong this year. not necessarily oscar strong but...

Alexgrieve said...

If you accept QT, you accept the whole package -- excess gore, comic-book plots, weird casting (Mike Myers!), over-the-top acting ("I haf Bingo!!") strange moustaches and stranger accents (Piz Palu is in Switzerland...) multiple crossover identities, amazing beauty, startling juxtapositions, biting satire, cinematic cross-referencing till it disappears up its own projector, raw comedy, a glimpse of fatal humanity -- the lot. What it all means is your problem, not QT's. A bit like Bosch or Breughel, really. What does the Mona Lisa mean?