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Brilliant Performances: Christopher Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

February 6, 2010

Iinglourious_basterds_ver11nglourious Basterds has become one of my favorite Tarantino pictures, and perhaps Tarantino’s most mature. In spite of it’s farcical nature, it shines with some of the most incredible acting performances I’ve seen this year.

Christopher Waltz plays one of the most engaging and likable villains in the history of cinema as the Nazi SS Colonel Hans Landa. You might even be tempted to see this movie as his story, where he seems to play an antagonist who is almost the protagonist in this film. The story begins with Landa hunting Jews, and it ends with Landa stiking a deal with the Allies for asylum, yet he’s not able to shed the Nazi image thanks to Aldo, Brad Pitt’s character.

Landa’s character is a sinister angel of darkness in the guise of a charismatic angel of light.  In the line of his work hunting down enemies of the state, he is develops a disarming report with those he engages with, and is able to sustain what seems to be a pleasant conversation even when the interrogated is highly agitated or frightened. And before long, he begins to seem to have a knowledge of ones secret even though nothing is said to that effect.’s a fascinating scene where Landa interviews Shosanna after a meal with Goebbels.  Shosanna owns the movie theater where Goebbels plans to show his film “Nations Pride” for the Nazi High Command. As it’s security officer, Landa must interview Shosanna as a formality of his role as security officer.

The counterpoint is wonderful.  Landa doesn’t realize that Shosanna is a Jew who escaped his massacre of her family at a dairy farm years before.  She is mortally terrified of this man. Landa is incredibly charming, and order for them strudel, and goes to great lengths to make it a perfect strudel by ordering whipped cream.  And in a fabulous irony, he orders an espresso for himself, and a glass of milk for Shosanna, and immediately you think he knows who Shosanna is.  So here you have a delightful conversation over strudel and cream in a posh restaurant, yet it is inflected by apprehension and gripping fear.  Tarantino and Waltz play this to the hilt almost as a celebration of eating strudel and cream.  The photography of the food was shot to look like it could be out of the pages of a food magazine.

In the script, Tarantino included an image that vividly capped off the emotion of this scene.  Shosanna smokes one of Landa’s cigarettes and when he leaves, she drops the cigarette onto the posh floor, and it goes out in a puddle of her urine.  A very strong image.  Perhaps Melanie Laurent’s reaction, which is in the film, was the strong emotional punctuation that he needed.

Landa is certainly one of Tarantino’s most memorable characters.  The wit and dimensionality of the character in the screenplay is all there. Waltz’s performance adds brilliance upon brilliance with his riveting performance. He inhabited the character so well that it would be hard to see any other actor in this role.

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