This may be a controversial opinion, but Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, his most effective synthesis of tone, style, and genre homage. While it’s totally reasonable to argue that films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill feature more memorable characters and more exciting action, Inglourious Basterds is his most seamless and concise effort, a confident and bombastic odyssey of rip-roaring revenge that never wears out its welcome.
Perfection is often a burden, though, and since each of the film’s five major movements is its own tiny symphony, it can be very difficult to choose one particular scene that best represents Basterds’ narrative goals and aesthetic wonders. Shosanna’s final revenge, for example, is a thrilling orgy of violence and mayhem. The pub scene — you know, “Auf wiedersehen to your Nazi balls!” — is a masterful one-act play about a goddamn rendezvous in a fuckin’ basement and the Mexican standoff that follows. Nevertheless, there’s one scene that might best serve our purposes, and it takes place Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France.
That sense of invasion gets more personal as Landa makes himself at home. Like the best villains, he comes with a smile, and the juxtaposition of demeanor and intent makes him truly horrifying. He begins by objectifying LaPadite’s daughters, giving them a slimy once-over and insisting that the rumors of their beauty are true. Landa knows what he’s doing here, asserting dominance over LaPadite by sexualizing his children. It’s a subtle way of showing that he’s entitled to anything the Frenchman owns, an echo of the Nazi occupation of his country. Note how desperately accommodating the family is during this whole affair; the last thing they want is to stand out. Landa’s warmth is palpable — and it’s entirely possible that their anxiety is unfounded — but we still get the feeling that the other shoe is about to drop. Landa then raises the stakes, asking the daughters to wait outside while the men talk. Tarantino is flashing his calling card now, settling us in for one of his long, expository monologues (think Jules’ Big Kahuna Burger scene in Pulp Fiction or Bill’s Superman monologue in Kill Bill).
Suddenly, the entire scene congeals. We know, deep down, that Landa is going to find these people. The basic visual language of film demands it. This dramatic irony sucks all the air out of the room as we finally realize how foolish this Frenchman has been. Tarantino knows he has our attention now, so he starts fucking with us by letting Landa go into his whole Jew Hunter spiel while we hyperventilate. Note again that he cues the change in dynamic visually: we’re now facing the other side of the house, and light is pouring in through the windows. The tables have literally turned. He mixes in a few low-angle shots, too — not only are we scared for the Dreyfuses, we’re seeing things from their point of view. One last visual gag: the comically-large pipe, which, of course, is just Landa slapping his dick on the table in victory. “You are sheltering enemies of the state, are you not?” Close-ups now, slow push-ins back and forth. LaPadite’s facade collapses (Ménochet is seriously great in this scene) into a mix of sadness and relief. He quickly points out the Dreyfuses’ hiding spot and resigns himself to whatever punishment awaits him. Landa doesn’t miss a beat; this is what he came for, and now he’s going to get it.
What are your favorite scenes from Inglourious Basterds? What else would you like to see covered on All the Pieces Matter? Leave it in the comments.