GREAT BEND, Kan. - Quintin Tarantino's film Inglourous Basterds looks like a shoo-in for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And Christopher Waltz, who plays a multi-lingual Nazi SS Colonel is sure to win an Oscar for his performance, probably "Best Supporting Actor."
So what's the fuss all about? The movie has all the florid colors and characters of a Quintin Tarantino film (Samuel L. Jackson actually narrates two small sections of the film). Even the title of the film is misspelled - of course, it should be "Inglorious Bastards." The film flirts with parody, and has a lot of good laughs. It feels very real, but also has the "film noir" overstatement that is typical with Tarantino films.
So how could a film about the systematic elimination of Jews in occupied France possibly be funny, or even offbeat enough to elicit a grin?
The key is that Tarantino saves all his barbs for the Nazis. Although the Jewish, English and French and American characters are flamboyant characters (e.g., Brad Pitt as U.S. Lt. Aldo Raine), the Nazis are the butt of every joke in the film. Not in a "Hogan's Heroes" sort of way, but in a "How in the hell did anyone ever get involved with Hitler?" sort of way.
And who really feels sorry for the Nazis? No one. A University of Kansas film professor told me recently that he had a German student take offense at the film. But the film isn't about Germans - except to the extent that they fell for an audacious man in Hitler, and a preposterous philosophy in Naziism.
The opening scene is the best depiction I've seen of the unspeakable treatment of Jews by Hitler and his men. The sensitive topic of "The Final Solution" is made watchable by the fact that the Nazis are the only victims of Tarantino's mockery, but also because the film provides a more satisfying alternative ending to World War II.
In that sense, it's the best "revenge" film since "The Count of Monte Cristo." I haven't talked to members of the Jewish community about the film, but I'll bet they like the film in some respects. The Jewish characters in the film - "The Basterds" - a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine out to terrorize Nazis in Nazi-occupied France, are heroic, brutal, funny and likable.
Melainie Laurent ("Soshanna Dreyfus"), the female star of the film, is stunning in her beauty, ingenuity, and facial expressions. She is the Jewish "Count of Monte Cristo," and together, with the unwitting help of "The Basterds," provides an alternative ending to World War II which would have been much superior to the drawn out War that ends in Berlin, with the Russians meeting up with the Americans. I would be surprised if Laurent doesn't receive some kind of Oscar nod.
The key Nazi figure, the Christopher Waltz character ("Hans Landa") is multidimensional in his languages and even in his beliefs. In the film, he speaks French, English, German and Italian. And when he speaks English, he does it in a nerdy sort of "I-wish-I-was-an-American" sort of way. In the end, he gets his wish, but not in the way he expected.
By inviting you into his alternative universe, Director Tarantino reminds one how awful The Third Reich was, while letting you think about how it happened with a fresh range of emotions.