THIS WEEK: Inglorious Basterds (2009). Several story-lines culminate around an assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler, including vengeful American soldiers, a lethal Jew Hunter, and a French cinema owner.
Enjoy the moment.
HOW IT STARTS: Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) attends a dinner at a fancy restaurant when a horrifying character from her past, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz in an Oscar winning role)(aka The Jew Hunter), enters and joins her dinner party.
THE PREFACE: Quentin Tarantino is the writer and director of 2009’s best movie. While outlandish and over-the-top at times, the entire story is framed on the delibrately slow-brewed emotionally terrifying opening sequence.
Tarantino is known for his flavourful writing and a little bit of the ultra violence. Earlier in PULP FICTION, he really nailed delaying our expectations. As hitmen approach the door of their target, they realize it’s not time yet, and continue their lengthy conversation about foot massages. For these guys, this is their job. It’s nothing unusual. They aren’t scared or excited. They’re more interested in their chat. Meanwhile, the audience is at the opposite side of the spectrum.
BASTERDS did this extraordinarily well with its opening sequence. A Frenchman in the countryside harbors Jewish “fugitives” underneath his floorboards. When Landa enters the house, we know what will happen. We fear for what will happen. The moment is soaked with intensity because we know that the people this dangerous man is looking for are just underneath them. While this moment deserves its own deconstruction, I’m mentioning it here to set-up the actual moment.
THE SET-UP: Shosanna, was the only survivor of the opening sequence. She ran across a field and escaped, as Landa aimed down his gun and let her go. Was he delaying his own gratification for later? Or is he so egotistical he doesn’t want to miss the shot?
Years later, Shosanna comes to own a cinema. BASTERDS has several story-lines running. They will all collide at her theatre where the plan is to assassinate Adolph Hitler during a special screening. This is an opportunity for Shosanna to finally get vengeance for her slain family. A revenge she’s been waiting a long time for.
A meeting is set-up at a fancy restaurant to secure her cinema as the Fuhrer’s screening venue. In order for the big plan to work, she must convince the Germans to select her theater. Is she fails Hitler will live and the war will continue.
THAT MOMENT: Shosanna is enjoying dinner. It looks like the plan is going to work. When her arch-nemesis suddenly appears behind her. Strange music starts pounding with electric snaring. It’s Landa! And Shosanna can’t react one bit or she’ll risk discovery.
It gets worse. As they are introduced, Landa kisses her hand. Tarantino wisely inserts a quick flashback to ensure we’re all on the same page. But Shosanna still can’t react. She stays composed. Melanie Laurent is mesmerizing here. Magnetic. We can’t take our eyes away from her. The camera focuses on her as Landa talks. We are effectively in her skin, whether we like it or not.
The moment isn’t over quickly either. We don’t know if Landa recognizes her or if he is just generally suspicious. He sits and orders pastry as he questions the theatre owner about the screening. Shosanna holds strong, answering his prying questions. Patiently. Somehow she’s able to remain in this dreadful moment and seem unfazed.
We watch, squirming in our seats, as Landa continues to ask her questions, like “How does a young lady come to own a cinema?” Because of you, Jew Hunter! Instead of resorting to this, she holds it in and complies to his questioning. Shosanna must be careful, as this master intellect and savage killer is looking for holes in her story.
It isn’t until he eats his pastry, lights and enjoys a cigarette, that Shosanna is spared of this conversation. He snuffs out his smoke into the pastry, defiling the object he praised for its magnificent beauty. Then Landa leaves. Once he does, Shosanna finally exhales. Her composure lifts, and she crumbles, bringing her hand to her mouth to stifle any sobbing.
What a glorious moment filled with glorious performing, direction, and writing.
THAT MOMENT REMEMBERED: Tarantino milks the tension for all it’s worth with this moment. He delays our expectations and gratification. Landa orders pastry. We must wait for it, alongside Shosanna. When it arrives, she digs in right away, eager to get this encounter over with. However, he won’t begin until he has cream, and she can’t either. It’s like Tarantino is toying with us, echoing Landa’s words, “Wait for the cream.”
This is what Tarantino does so well. In all of his movies, he makes us wait for the cream. Since we know it will be incredibly delicious, we patiently wait… on the edge of our seat, as our hearts pound like Laurent’s character.
Once Shosanna finally enacts her vengeance during the finale, there is a great exorcism of emotions. The triumph of the moment built slowly but steadily over the course of the film, perhaps testing the patience of some viewers. However, the patient are greatly rewarded. From the opening sequence on, each sequence is so carefully tended to, that by the end we have a culmination of emotions from the entire experience.
There is power in the subtlety of delaying our expectations, and placing us in the character’s skin. By torturing his protagonist over waiting for a little cream, Tarantino also tortures us. Not in a violent sadistic sort of way, but in a manner that is necessary for us to fully connect to his original intentions.
I hope you enjoyed Remembering just one of many great moments in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Of course, this analysis is just my thoughts, but I also hope it helps inform your experience of the film. Perhaps, you now have a new context to enjoy this Moment.
Until the next Tarantino flick HATEFUL EIGHT hits the cinema, I’ll be patiently waiting for the cream.
David’s Take: Inglorious Basterds is a film that really challenges viewers and invites them to think about history in a different light. The fantasy is both thrilling and troubling, especially with characters like Hans Landa to think about. The opening moments of this movie are some of the best ever and remains one of the more frightening scenes in cinema. And it is because of how his character is established that the scene here is so much more scary because we recognize his strategy now and wonder if she will break. I really like how you point out the pastry in this moment because it’s really important to the narrative. So much tension. Great choice.