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An Oscar For Tarantino

09_inglouriousbastards1_lgWith all the buzz in LA this week about the Oscar voting – here is my vote— Inglorious Basterds should win Best Picture, and many other accolades for Quentin Tarantino and his brilliant cast. Basterds is the most intriguing movie about WWII and the Holocaust to be made in decades.

Writing about the film this week, a few days before the holiday of Purim, I am drawn to a parallel between Basterds and Purim. In the Purim story, Jewish salvation came not at the hands of politicians and power-brokers, but through a Jewish woman who had hidden her identity from everyone including her husband. In Basterds, it is also a Jewish woman, whose past and Jewish identity a secret, and is being romanced by a Nazi poster-boy, who is the heroine.

Basterds is a film about WWII and the “face of Jewish revenge” portrayed by a band of American Jews scalping Nazi behind enemy lines. There is also the Jewish woman who plots to murder the entire Nazi leadership as revenge for her murdered. None of these things actually happened, Basterds is a fairy tale.

The film is brilliant from every angle. It has drama, humor, romance, and suspense. The plot twists are compelling. The story, the photography, the script, the acting, and the drama all are detailed, textured, nuanced, colorful, and captivating.

I was apprehensive. I had never seen a Tarantino film, and heard there is a lot of violence. While Basterds has some pretty graphic violence, it is a WWII movie after- all. The scalping made everyone cringe. Yet the violence pales in comparison to portrayals of mass murder by Nazi death squads or gas chambers.

The Jews are tough in this film. More James Bond than Woody Allen, more Mossad, that Seinfeld. There are no sheep being led to the slaughter. The Nazis are brutal, interesting, grotesque – not unlike the real Nazis. The leader of the Basterds played by Brad Pitt brands Nazis with Swastikas on their foreheads so they cannot escape into regular life afterward. They cannot escape what they have done.

It is clear that Tarantino did a ton of research on his subject matter. He read up on the Nazi film industry, and the war, and real life WWII spy stuff. He digested all the previously exulted WWII movies and hints of them appear in the film

I enjoyed many parts of the film for their poetic justice, suspense, and dialogue – but this one I love to retell.

Winston Churchill, when hearing of the Germans plans to replace Jewish cinema with Nazi cinema, says “You say [Goebbels] wants to take on the Jews at their own game?”

If we cannot laugh we cannot heal. If we cannot dream we cannot move on. Tarantino’s film helps us heal, and move on, but that is not why he made it – he made it because it needed to be made.

If they would have murdered Hitler – millions would have been saved, but it was not the priority of the Allied forces. In fact, the only ones that made a serious attempt at it late in the war were fellow Germans.

The Allies tried to win the war the old-fashioned way, with infantry, tanks, planes and bombs, with propaganda, cloaks, daggers and brute force. I don’t know if this was Tarantino’s goal, but Basterds shows that redemption can come from average people doing extraordinary things. To stop an evil tyrant we cannot depend solely on conventional means, and conventional players, we need to act and hope that we are helped by the hand of God.

A Bracha For Tarantino

On the set of Basterds, the cast with filmmaker Tarantino

On the set of Basterds, the cast with filmmaker Tarantino

I gave Quentin Tarantino a blessing. Let me explain.

I had never gone to see a Tarantino film. I had only seen clips. But I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Inglourious Basterds at a private screening organized by The Jewish Journal, the Board of Rabbis, and the Israeli Consulate, followed by Q&A with Producer Lawrence Bender and Actor Christoph Waltz.

A good crowd showed up at The Landmark. I bought a large drink I didn’t manage to finish. We started almost a half an hour late – some important folks were stuck in traffic. How Jewish is that, that they started late for some folks? The lights dimmed. Action.

Basterds is brilliant from every angle. It has drama, humor, romance, and suspense. The plot twists are compelling. The story, the photography, the script, the acting, and the drama all are detailed, textured, nuanced, colorful, and captivating.

I must admit I was a little apprehensive. I had no idea what to expect — except I heard a lot of violence. While Inglourious Basterds has some pretty graphic violence, it is a WWII movie after all. The scalping made everyone cringe.

So why the special screening to a bunch of Jews in LA, and a whole lot of Rabbis? The people who made and distributed the move, The Weinstein Company, Lawrence Bender, and Tarantino, feel the movie has Oscar potential. Christoph Waltz received Best Actor at Cannes for his portrayal of the Nazi Jew Hunter. But the film was perhaps not widely known in the community, or the filmmakers wanted to give the film some good PR in the Jewish community, whose opinion on the movie counts for the filmmakers in the run up to Oscar season. Perhaps they felt the film needs a rabbinic seal of approval.

This is a film about WWII, revenge, and the “face of Jewish revenge” portrayed by a band of American Jews scalping Nazi behind enemy lines. Then there is the massive revenge brought on the entire Nazi leadership by a Jewish woman whose family was murdered. The Jews are tough in this film. No sheep to the slaughter. The Nazis are brutal, interesting, grotesque. The leader of the Basterds played by Brad Pitt brands Nazis with Swastikas on their foreheads so they cannot escape into regular life afterward. They cannot escape what they have done.

Tarantino did a ton of research on his subject matter and it shows. He read up on the Nazi film industry, and the war, and real life WWII spy stuff. He digested all the previously exulted WWII movies.

There are too many great moments in the film for a blog piece, but I loved this line uttered by Winston Churchill when hearing of the Germans plans to replace Jewish cinema with Nazi cinema.

“You say [Goebbels] wants to take on the Jews at their own game?”

This film has so many layers.

After the screening, Lawrence Bender the producer and Christof Waltz the main actor answered questions from Rob Eshman. Then the floor was opened to questions.

Christof Waltz, the lead, is a seriously talented European actor based in Berlin. Rather than seek the cover of Us or People, he would rather have deeply philosophical discussions. Acting, art, theater, is an intellectual and serious pursuit. You just don’t get that feeling from most American actors today.

Waltz told the audience the film is about how we perceive reality, it’s not a Holocaust film [I agree]. People attribute films with much too much importance today, he feels. People are so concerned in the audience, what might other people think about the portrayal of this or that, how might Iran use this as propaganda against Israel and the Jews – but how do we personally feel about the film? How do we react?

A woman began a long question about Tarantino films in general, and then this film asking whether people might mistake Basterds for real life events, when they aren’t.

Then from the back of the small theater we hear:

“Ill answer that question.”

It was Tarantino.

And from then on the evening became exciting. Tarantino fielded a few questions and interjected when he felt like it. And he didn’t run away after the show. Two hours after the movie ended he was there in the hallway still speaking with adoring fans and attendees about the film.

“What if people are confused about what is truth or fantasy?”

The film starts off with the line, “Once upon a time in occupied France.” Tarantino replies. “It’s a fairy tale, its based on real people and events. But if people don’t get it, tough….”

I was introduced to Tarantino late in the evening as a Rabbi who had never seen his films. He was gracious, down to earth, appreciative of my compliments that I loved the film, and now understand why everyone is so crazy about his work.

And as is so often the case, I really had no prepared script, and I had handed out all my Jewlicious Festival cards to the Producers, the actors, the organizers. Before I realized it, I had switched into Rabbi At Joyous Event Mode.

I gave Tarantino a bracha, a blessing for continued and even greater success in life and in film making.

Amen.

Tweeting Tarantino

inglourious-basterds-movie-poster_382x558Tweets in reverse chronological order during Q&A after Jewish community screening of Inglourious Bastards, hosted by The LA Jewish Journal, the Consulate General of Israel, and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. Q&A With: Lawrence Bender, producer of “Basterds,” producer of all Quentin Tarantino’s films as well as the Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Good Will Hunting.” Christoph Waltz received the Best Actor Award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Nazi Col. Hans Landa. Rob Eshman, Jewish Journal Editor led the Q&A. Session filmed by Weinstein Company. [Note: I updated the spelling of Inglourious Basterds — which I had spelled Inglorious Bastards in my Tweets.]

Got to see my son killing Hitler — Bear Jew’s Dad at Inglourious Basterds screening

Audience loves Waltz, Tarantino!

Tarantino references tons of classic WWII films. He must have seen then all.

The level of suspense on a 30 minute sequence in German. Not been done before Inglourious Basterds. — Tarantino

Movie is only fantasy when story veers from history. In WWII language was a matter of life or death. — Tarantino

Had my characters existed, it could have happened. — Tarantino

Until they kill Hitler at end, it’s not fantasy. All the WWII films have imagination. — Tarantino

Thought they might not find an actor for lead actor of Lada, the lead Nazi. Without Waltz no Inglourious Basterds. –Bender

Audience loves Tarantino.

Tarantino did a ton of research — powered by his imagination. Would make up stuff, and look it up and find he was right.

Inglourious Basterds has many many parallels to things that happened in real life. — Tarantino

“Once upon a time in occupied France.” It’s a fairy tale. Says Tarantino re Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino attending! Seems the whole cast but Brad Pitt is here.

There is a propaganda movie inside Inglourious Basterds.

Inglourious Basterds will get more people interested in the holocaust. — Bender

What does it say that this is the Holocaust film of our era? And the Blurring of history and fantasy? — Michael Birenbaum

The survivors start taking — Inglourious Basterds would have never happened. Jews didn’t take revenge.

Christof’s son wants to be a Rabbi.

@rabinkos a ton of violence but surreal.

Tarantino and Bender visited Israel, Yad VaShem. Theater went nuts when at end of film we see The Face of Jewish Revenge.

Could a German or Jew have made it? It needed Tarantino — Waltz

Discussing Nazi. How was Inglourious Basterds received in Germany and Israel? http://yfrog.com/373gqij

I am having flashbacks to working on the set of The Pianist

How did Inglourious Basterds hit Jews on the gut level?

Is Inglourious Basterds “good for the Jews?” — I guess that is why we are here.

At Q&A w/ Christoph Walz and Lawrence Bender after Inglourious Basterds screening w/ Jewish Journal’s Rob Eshman

Special screening of Inglourious Basterds (@ The Landmark – West LA in LA) http://bit.ly/6EfOrw