Once upon a time… in Nazi-occupied France…
If you don’t know what to watch next, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) is available to stream on Netflix. The war film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of SS Colonel Hans Landa.
The movie strings three storylines like Christmas lights around the premiere of a fictitious National Socialist propaganda piece in World War II Paris.
A Jewish American paramilitary group called “the Basterds,” led by First Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), scalps German soldiers.
British Royal Marine Lieutenant Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) rendezvouses with the Basterds as part of his government’s plan to assassinate the Nazi leadership in attendance at the showing of Doctor Joseph Goebbels’s (Sylvester Groth) Stolz der Nation (1944).
And Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a French Jew whose family was massacred by Hans, masquerades in Paris as the gentile theater owner hosting the Nation’s Pride debut, plotting her own justice against the Third Reich.
If Kill Bill (2003-2004) is a revenge fantasy for women and Django Unchained (2012) is the same for Black Americans, then Inglourious Basterds and its alternate history of Jewish vengeance makes up something of a trilogy with these two companion pieces.
Tarantino is a master of this subgenre, and the grand finale of Inglourious Basterds exhibits his genius for this niche at its most cathartic.
There is something to be said, however, about his attempt at empowerment through aestheticized violence. Such exploitative filmmaking can horrify the audience with images of fascists getting burned alive, when the narrative is intended to dramatize a triumph over their ideology.
It’s not that they don’t deserve it – it’s that the wrong crowd could sympathize with them.
Furthermore, the twice-nominated auteur (Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) indulges in some of his more infamous weaknesses as a filmmaker and screenwriter, such as inconsistent pacing and self-gratifying dialogue.
Notwithstanding, Tarantino inspires in Waltz a star-making performance, which, together with his other Oscar-winning turn in Django Unchained, testifies to his range as an actor, from unlikable characterizations to the likable.
But the star who shines brightest in Inglourious Basterds is Laurent. Shosanna is one of the director’s finest creations, and though her screen time runs brief relative to her castmates, she steals the show.
She is a tragic figure who deserves better, an intersectional survivor of racism and misogyny (which go hand in glove in far-right zeitgeists like Nazi Germany) who wins in the end anyway.
Her arc towers at the center of Tarantino’s theme of reclaiming cinema to literally destroy the Nazis after they appropriated and perverted the art form to construct Nazism through their propaganda machinery.
Shosanna speaks to the hearts of Tarantino’s fellow cinephiles with a power unlike any other monologist throughout his filmography, and even though she doesn’t get her happily ever after in this quirky fairytale of Hitler’s France, she still gets the last laugh.