26 January 2010 @ 04:56 am
Inglourious Basterds part 1  





LaPadite vs Landa in an epic pipe-off.

For a minute or so, it looks like the protagonist of Inglourious Basterds is going to be Perrier LaPadite, a humble French dairy farmer just trying to eke his way through World War II in the French countryside with his daughters.  Into LaPadite's island of relative calm comes Col Hans Landa.  The opening scene of Inglourious Basterds is over 15 minutes long, which is extraordinary in and of itself.  15 minutes is a huge amount of screen time to spend on a scene, especially an opening scene, especially a two-handed opening scene where one of the characters will never be seen again.  That's just the beginning of the daring and audacity of Quentin Tarantino's screenplay.

The scene is one long suspense beat, a pattern that will be repeated throughout the movie.  Over and over, Tarantino slowly ratchets up the tension until is is almost a relief when the tension explodes into violence.  Which is, as it turns out, one of the things that elevates Basterds to the level of high art -- Tarantino repeatedly uses the audience's desire for release against it.  The movie doesn't merely use violence, it's about violence, particularly violence in movies, or in popular culture anyway, and the way it can be used to manipulate an audience, or a populace.  It repeatedly gets you longing for violence and then, by the time it shows up, it's not what you wanted or expected it to be.  The movie as a whole doesn't offer up easy answers, rather it asks extremely uncomfortable questions.

Shortly into the first scene, it becomes clear that LaPadite isn't the protagonist, Landa is.  LaPadite is reactive, Landa is the one driving the scene every step of the way.  The performances in Basterds are extraordinary, and Christoph Waltz as Landa is extraordinary even by the standards of the rest of the movie, but the performance, if I may be so bold, rises from the ingenuity of the screenplay.

Landa comes into LaPadite's humble abode and gently insinuates himself into his family.  He is polite, complimentary and even gracious.  Why do we know that he's actually a ruthless killer, a monster to be reckoned with?  Two reasons.  One, he's wearing a Nazi uniform, and everyone old enough to see Inglourious Basterds knows that Nazis are evil (a supposition the movie will go on to exploit to its fullest).  Two, we know Landa is scary because LaPadite and his daughters act scared around him.  Landa actually has to go pretty far out of his way to put LaPadite at ease: he poses as a gentleman, a connoisseur, a gossip, a harmless bureaucrat.  He drinks milk, he invites LaPadite to speak English with him.

(Audiences take the English-speaking as a "movie joke" at first.  Of course, Landa has an agenda, from the very beginning: he knows the people hiding in the house, whom we haven't met yet, don't speak English.)

What does Landa want?  He wants to kill the Dreyfusses, the Jewish family LaPadite is hiding under his floorboards.  Landa knows the Dreyfusses are there, he knows exactly where they are.  He could just order LaPadite into the yard and have his men pry up the boards, but he doesn't.  Instead, he draws out his joshing, smug interrogation to excruciating lengths.  He puts on a show, in short, for an audience of one, he performs.  He pretends to be a bureaucrat with his pen and file, and then he takes out his enormous pipe.  The audience takes his pipe as a sexual joke -- Landa's pipe is bigger than LaPadite's -- but it's actually a character beat.  Landa smokes the pipe because he believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatest detective.  Or rather, he poses as Holmes, for reasons yet unclear.  To us, he is a Nazi, we see only the uniform, but in his own mind he is a detective, on the hunt for dangerous criminals -- the Dreyfusses.  (In an act of cultural precognition, he also imitates Columbo -- he pretends he is ready to go, then does the "oh, one last thing" bit.) 

He says he's proud of his nickname -- "The Jew Hunter."  Later on, he'll claim that he hates the nickname.  Two possibilities: either he's lying one of the times, for the benefit of effect, or else he changes his mind between the beginning of the movie to the end.  He seems to me to be a very theatrical character, who breathes performance and layered meanings, who says whatever he says to any given person in any given situation.

Landa slowly backs LaPadite into a corner with his equating of Jews with rats.  He's a salesman, in a way, and the thing he's selling is "the revealing of the Dreyfusses."  A salesman will tell you, you start off asking questions that can only be answered as "yes" until you finally get your mark into a corner, and they're so used to saying "yes" that by the time you spring your trap they're afraid to say "no."  May I come in?  Of course.  May I have a glass of milk?  Why not.  May I compliment your daughters, speak English with you, ask you a few harmless questions, smoke a pipe with you?  Yes, yes and yes.  Do you hate rats?  Well, yes, I suppose.  Aren't Jews a lot like rats?

The dehumanizing of The Other is an important tactic in war, and, not coincidentally, in drama.  A dramatist routinely places audience identification with one character or another, the result being we want one character to succeed over another.  In an excellent drama, everyone is right, everyone has their reasons, and everyone acts intelligently and resourcefully.  It is the conflicting agendas of the principals that gives rise to drama.  But there are very few WWII movies -- very few war movies in general -- hell, very few movies in general -- that bother to create excellent drama.  Rather, characters are labeled "good" or "bad" so that the audience knows who to "root for."  Basterds stretches this tendency to ridiculous extremes, ending up as an examination and critique of cinematic art.

LaPadite is,  of course, torn.  He wants to protect the Dreyfusses, but he wants to protect his daughters, and himself, more.  What Landa finally sells LaPadite is his life.  He's aware, he says, of what humans are capable of when they no longer have dignity.  Well, he should -- he spends fifteen minutes stripping away LaPadite's.

Finally, Landa reveals his agenda -- he has known from the beginning that the Dreyfusses are under the floorboards, and he is here to kill them.  There was nothing LaPadite could have done to save them, Landa was merely toying with him the whole time.  Why?  No reason is given, the drama of the scene seems to be there in order to set up Landa as a character, to set up one of the Dreyfusses, Shoshanna, as a character, and to present the stakes of the movie in a remarkable and effective manner.  On a character level, Landa's performance seems to be there because, well, that's what he enjoys doing, toying with people, taking the stage, going through his performance before springing the trap.  His toying with LaPadite ties him to Jules in Pulp Fiction: one recites a Bible verse before killing someone because it sounds cool, the other behaves like a detective from popular fiction because it pleases him to do so.


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( 76 comments — Leave a comment )
Rattsurattsu on January 26th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, I had no desire to see this movie at all. While I can see why people do enjoy Tarantino, I prefer the movies that he borrows from, and I have no desire to see a hackneyed version of a scene I've come to love from other sources. That being said, I do like Reservoir Dogs, and some of the scenes he has done I have liked. I guess what spoils him for me is that I can never be sure if he actually is making something of his own, or if he just copies and repackages. Since I recognize so much from some of his other movies, every time I see something original and interesting from him I always go in with the assumption that he has borrowed it from elsewhere, I just haven't seen that particular movie yet.

But, this review made me curious to see this movie, if nothing else to see if he is still doing the same old thing...
neutralsurgeonneutralsurgeon on February 28th, 2010 07:18 am (UTC)
As an avid Tarantino fan, your opinion on him reads like a description of everything he's not. You may recognize some of his scenes because HE is often imitated. Or perhaps because he falls in love with a cliche genre like spaghetti westerns or samurai thrillers, but everything he creates is so far from what anyone has done with it. And on top of it he adds fantastic dialogue and characterization. I don't like to look at Reservoir Dogs as an example, because that's just QT discovering his niche.

Of course, it's all a matter of opinion. I think just because the genre is cliched doesn't mean he isn't genuinely brilliant.

(not to shit all over your comment, I just wanted to put my two cents in)
Lady Sheherazahde Lachesissheherazahde on January 26th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
"his equivocation of Jews with rats."

I haven't seen the movie but I think you mean "equating" not "equivocating".

"ending up as an examination and examination of cinematic art.

I have no idea what second word you meant here, or if you just accidentally repeated a sentence fragment.

Just reading your description of this scene gives me chills. I didn't see the movie because I suspected I would find it too stressful. I think I was right.

Name what?  Name who?lindylousmith on January 26th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
that's why I didn't see it in the theatres -- it sounded awful.

I saw it, though, in my home (where I could stop the movie and walk away if I wanted - yaay for power!), and while I'm not sure I'd see it again, I'm glad I saw it ... the stress/awfulness was short and not nearly as anguish-producing as I thought it'd be. The joy and beauty in it is worth seeing it, once. And, the actor who plays Landa is beyond compare -- his performance makes the movie worthwhile. Once. :)
johnnybacardi: Zorro the Gay Bladejbacardi on January 26th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
I was wondering about that "examination and examination" line myself...
(no subject) - toddalcott on January 26th, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Benjaminsamedietc on January 26th, 2010 02:14 pm (UTC)
A Frenchman betrays someone named Dreyfus? That would never happen in real life!

On a slightly more serious note, I think the scene is almost unreadable if you take Shoshanna as the protagonist. (We don't even know she's there!--kind of like in "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel," where the A-story ending looks like a B-story scene.) But what if you take it as her traumatic origin story?

There's so little of her, but she turns out (surprisingly) to be one of the main characters, I'm almost tempted to see the stand-off not between two pipe-smokers (which it certainly is, on the manifest level), but between Landa and Shoshanna as two opposites--man/woman, cat/mouse(rat), above/below, English/no-English. In that case (and apologies for spoilers / jumping ahead), it's interesting to me that Shoshanna and Landa come to have a similar agenda.

I guess there might be something to say about the flapping sheets hung out to dry and the silver screen, too, but I have to go to work.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on January 26th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
As you point out, Shoshanna does become a protagonist of Basterds, and this could, indeed, be seen, in a way, as "her scene." But we don't know that yet.

You comment underlines another aspect of Tarantino's casual daring as a writer: he's a main character, Shoshanna, who's going to end up driving half the narrative, and the device he comes up with to introduce her is a fifteen-minute scene about a French dairy farmer being interrogated by an SS officer. Classic Tarantino.
McMaster Mix: Amelietawdryjones on January 26th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
Wow, you put into words what I felt watching this movie. I had trouble explaining to friends why this movie was more than just "older Tarantino." More, please!
(Anonymous) on January 26th, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
"Bah! Just a name that stuck!"
either he's lying one of the times, for the benefit of effect, or else he changes his mind between the beginning of the movie to the end.

Don't want to get too ahead of the commentary (and I hope everyone's seen the movie by now), but I think a strong case could be made that he's lying the second time - his objective while interrogating Aldo and Utivich is tied much more into making them see how dopey their nicknames are. He's demythologizing the three of them, saying "we're real people, not fictional characters," in much the same way Tarantino is deconstructing movie violence. Landa needs the Basterds to believe he hates his nickname if he's going to keep his dignity even when selling out his cause, in exactly the way LaPadite couldn't.

Then again, Waltz is so charismatic a performer that you want to believe him in the later scene, but methinks he doth protest a tad much . . .

So glad you're discussing this. I love this movie and everything about it. Some have said Landa chugging the milk is a callback to Sam Jackson sipping the sprite before he massacres Brett in Pulp Fiction, but it also reminded me of the milkshake drinking on display in There will be Blood!, another movie with five acts and one that Tarantino has admitted forced him to "step up his game" when directing Basterds.

-Le Ted
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on January 26th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: "Bah! Just a name that stuck!"
I hadn't heard that. That's excellent.
the_colin_smith on February 1st, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
Re: "Bah! Just a name that stuck!"
I think there's an argument to be made that Landa is being equally honest/dishonest in both cases. He takes pride in being a hunter, but thinks it silly that people believe he has a particular interest in hunting Jews. As a person who doesn't appear to genuinely believe in anything aside from his own cleverness, opinion and meaning are just things to arrange for the needs of a given situation.

As another example, he clearly introduces the rats vs squirrels argument as part of his strategy to demoralize and wear down LaPadite, and yet it seems entirely plausible that he actually finds the line of reasoning valid. (And speaking of "Pulp Fiction", this bit echos Vince & Jules on pigs vs dogs, with Landa in this case essentially taking the Vince role.)
Juliet Valcouerjulietvalcouer on January 26th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
All right, so I really need to see this movie.
Professor Coldheart: Omarperich on January 26th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
I'm excited for this.
Ink and Pixel Clubinkandpixelclub on January 26th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)
Now that I think about it, Tarantino has been using a lot of really uncomfortable and tense scenes in his work lately. Beatrix getting buried alive in the second volume of Kill Bill was a very tough scene to watch. Tarantino revisits the concept in his CSI two-parter. Death Proof is pretty much two long tension builds. And like you said, this movie is littered with such scenes, though the first one may be the most difficult to watch.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on January 26th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
Each "chapter" is constructed to build toward a climax of almost suffocating suspense.
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Chris Pierschrispiers on January 26th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
I can't wait to read the rest of your analysis. This was probably my favorite film of last year. Honestly, it depends on the day. I was really impressed with Hurt Locker, too.

One thing I liked about this movie was that it was about film as much as it was about war or the protagonist's journey. The repeated scenes of tension, the variations on a theme, combined with the fact that these characters are larger than life and almost seem to know they're in a movie, reminded me of another film that I ended up not liking: Funny Games. That one played with the audience wanting a release, wanting to witness violence, but made me feel guilty about it. Which was the point, but I didn't like that. This one was uncomfortable, but still entertaining. I was grateful for that.

One question I have about the opening scene. Why does Landa apparently LET Shoshanna escape? I can't quite fathom it, unless he was already planning ahead for his eventual escape from the life of a Nazi, but that seems too preposterous. There's no way he could have predicted where life would take her. Right?
Benjaminsamedietc on January 26th, 2010 09:38 pm (UTC)
Why does Landa apparently LET Shoshanna escape?

I was also confused about that. We can understand this from Tarantino's standpoint as setting up her motivation (Nazis killed my brother!) and her anxiety in the strudel scene (oh, Landa and his love of dairy!).

But what does this say about Landa? It seems to indicate that, although he seems to take some joy in trapping LaPadite and discovering the Jews, he's not a fanatic Jew-hater--he's just a Jew-Hunter. It would be the same to him if it were gypsies or homosexuals--he seems interested in the formal aspect of the game, regardless of the content.

If the Inglourious Basterds are bastards precisely because they believe that ends justify the means, Landa is a gentleman in that he's only interested in means. (Or the contrast could be over getting one's hands dirty--Landa doesn't do it.)
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LEtting Shosanna escape - (Anonymous) on February 9th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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A film about the power of film - (Anonymous) on March 10th, 2011 03:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: A film about the power of film - (Anonymous) on March 10th, 2011 03:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
Casanova Quinncassanovaquinn on January 26th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
I don't get the impression from the film that Landa hates the Jews, but rather that he'll do whatever he needs to to get ahead. If that's being a Jew killer, fine - or if that's switching sides and helping kill Hitler, that's fine, too. This lack of morality is perhaps scarier than the morality of "the Jews are evil and must be exterminated," because the person saying the latter could at least be swayed should they be convinced of the value of human life. Landa might well know already - he just doesn't care.

Tarantino's use of suspense in this film is extraordinary, not only within his own body of work, but also within modern film in general. The bait-and-switch of the violence is masterfully done... I was just about to say more about that, but then remembered I'd already done so in an earlier thread on this site about the movie: http://toddalcott.livejournal.com/270349.html?thread=5331213#t5331213

Upon more reflection, I feel that this film, while great, is another example of how Tarantino needs an editor at the script stage, but maybe you'll prove me wrong as the analysis continues. Looking forward to it.
neutralsurgeonneutralsurgeon on February 28th, 2010 07:29 am (UTC)
What do you mean about the editor? Are you referring to the length of the scenes or the quality itself?
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Kspiralstairs on January 27th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
I'm so glad to know I wasn't the only person on the edge of my seat during that scene. The tension was excruciating, and I can't remember the last time a movie had me on that many pins and needles. It's the length that really made it sing. I haven't seen it since I saw it in theaters, but the more I think about it, the more I really appreciate it. :)

And this might just be me reading too much into it, but the confrontation between Landa and Bridget reminded me a lot of the second act of 'Tosca'. Anyway, excellent analysis as usual, sir! :)
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on January 27th, 2010 03:03 am (UTC)
Well, we all know what a big opera fan Tarantino is.
(no subject) - spiralstairs on January 27th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
Curtis Holman: Eyescurt_holman on January 27th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
Inglourious drama
"But there are very few WWII movies -- very few war movies in general -- hell, very few movies in general -- that bother to create excellent drama."

One of the interesting, expectation-confounding things about 'Inglourious Basterds' is how "talky" it is for what initially appears to be a men-on-a-mission WWII movie. I would imagine that at least 90% of the film could be adapted for the stage with only minor changes, and still "work."

After 'Basterds's' release, several critics/bloggers criticized the film's marketing campaign for solely showcasing the American/Aldo Raine part of the story. (Such as the iconic/scary series of posters of Brad Pitt et al.) I see where they're coming from, since 'IB' has almost no "process" type of scenes of men-at-arms doing stuff, a la 'Saving Private Ryan' or 'The Hurt Locker,' which someone expects from that kind of movie.

But I'm not sure how one WOULD more accurately market/promote IB, given it's unconventional narrative. Maybe showcase Shoshana and the British guy more?

What's interesting to me is that apparently audiences didn't mind IB's post-modern approach. I seem to remember it earning more than $100 million domestically.
Wassup suckas!ja_samonikla on January 28th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
Few and far between do I see a movie that has me saying "fuck yeah!" during it, this movie does every time I watch it. Though Nazi's are truly sons of bitches, I really enjoyed Landa's character. It gave so much more depth to the typical "I hate Jews" Nazi that is typically portrayed in movies.
protomodo on February 7th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
Tarantino slowly ratchets up the tension until it is almost a relief when the tension explodes
“Over and over, Tarantino slowly ratchets up the tension until it is almost a relief when the tension explodes into violence. Which is, as it turns out, one of the things that elevates Basterds to the level of high art -- Tarantino repeatedly uses the audience's desire for release against it. The movie doesn't merely use violence, it's about violence, particularly violence in movies, or in popular culture anyway, and the way it can be used to manipulate an audience, or a populace. It repeatedly gets you longing for violence and then, by the time it shows up, it's not what you wanted or expected it to be. The movie as a whole doesn't offer up easy answers, rather it asks extremely uncomfortable questions."

I am in total agreement with Todd’s proposition. Basterds is itself a demonstration of the power of movies to manipulate audience reaction violence. There is the theme of movies as propaganda – the inclusion of Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich; the references to Leni Riefenstahl, its unofficial High Priestess; the fame and glory attendant upon the premier of “Nation’s Pride”. On the surface, Basterds can be seen as another WWII story of the good guy Americans and Allies, against the evil Nazi’s. There is a resemblance to the Dirty Dozen story line. But below the surface, QT seems to be digging deeper. When used against innocent victims, violence becomes unjustifiable and intolerable. But when violence is used in revenge, even to the point of acts of terror, is violence an instrument of justice? Is it merely a question of from which perspective you view it? I see that as one of the uncomfortable questions Basterds raises.


neutralsurgeon: richie SHOT THROUGH DAH HEARTneutralsurgeon on February 28th, 2010 07:25 am (UTC)
No words can describe how much I've been digging QT lately. IB totally rekindled my infatuation with that mind of his. Thank you so much for adding more interpretation into the mix. It always adds more. Wouldn't have liked No Country For Old Men if my loser brother didn't go into the whole literary/film analysis beforehand.
( 76 comments — Leave a comment )