Hans Landa, the loquacious, charming, calculating nemesis of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the villain we can’t help admiring for his chutzpah. Ironic, for someone who’s nickname is “The Jew Hunter”.
WARNING: This piece contains major spoilers
Rarely can a film have depended so much on the successful casting of a supporting role. At one point in the casting process Tarantino said “I’m really worried I might have written a part that just can’t be played by an actor because not only do we need a great actor, we need a linguistic genius. He’s got to speak French, German and English, not just fluently but he’s got to do it in my language, he’s got to be a poet in all three languages and be a great actor.”
He was so despondent he considered just publishing the work as an unfilmed screenplay. Fortunately, he found his Landa and the key to unlocking his twisted take on W W II, with Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. The trailers may have emphasised Brad Pitt’s American Guerilla Lt Aldo Raine, but have no doubt, Waltz steals the show every time he’s on screen. The film isn’t in any way a let down otherwise, but you miss his character when he’s not there.
Col. Landa is a complex character, at once intelligent, urbane, witty, calculating and devious. Whether he’s ordering strudel for Shosanna / Emmanuelle (“Wait for the creme!”), or slowly picking apart the threads of Mr LaPadite’s lies as Shosanna’s family hides beneath the floorboards, his manners are impeccable.
He is like a Chess Grand Master, always several moves ahead of the game. Of course he knows LaPadite is harbouring the Jewish family. He just wants him to tell him where they are, over a friendly glass of milk, by subtly making it obvious how little he has to gain by carrying on the charade. Landa plays on his knowledge that they both speak English by changing tone and language as the family remain unaware of the imminent danger from above. As Shosanna escapes from the farm house he deliberately takes aim but does not fire, instead bidding her Au Revoir. Why? Does he respect her instinct to survive in a harsh world, as in his nasty comparision to rats? Or does he get a kick out of knowing she’ll be haunted by what happened?
When they meet three years later in Paris, Shosanna is now known as Emmanuelle Mimieux, and runs the Cinema that will host the premiere of Nazi film Nation’s Pride. She knows him, but does he know her? He questions how she came to run a Cinema at such a young age, and orders her a glass of milk. Is this a cheeky wink to their shared history at the farm? The way the scene is written and exquisitely performed, we can never know for sure how much he knows. He’s like a cat, playing with a mouse.
Investigating the aftermath of the beer cellar shootout he finds a woman’s shoe and handkerchief signed by Bridget Von Hammesmark, German actress and British Agent. He does not report this, instead he decides to let the drama play out for his amusement and gain.
His masterly dismantling of Hammesmark and Raine’s preposterous last minute cover story is a delight to watch. First he laughs uproariously at her reason for wearing a leg cast, knowing there is no way she could have made it to Paris in time from a mountain climbing accident. He feigns delight in conversing with the Basterds in fluent Italian (they pretend to be Italian film-makers), demanding the hapless fools repeat their names with gusto.
The only time his mask slips is when he beckons Hammesmark into a private office. He pops her foot on to his lap, removes her evening shoe and slips on the other incriminating shoe. Suddenly he lunges at her, a snarling animal, and viciously strangles her. He may have a sadistic or sexual urge to punish, but he also knows what they’re up to and plans to use it to his own advantage, so he kills her silently.
He lets the plan to destroy the Nazi high command go ahead, so long as the Allies know he permitted it, and is suitably recognised for doing so. He is confident he’ll get away with it, but the one mistake he makes is to underestimate Raine’s capacity for insubordination. Sure, he’ll escort Landa safely to the Allied lines, but he leaves him a permanent memento and a sign to others of his evil deeds by carving a swastika on his forehead (“My greatest masterpiece.”).
“You do not play a villain“, said Waltz to Total Film. “That’s not a villain. That’s an idiot. So you go by the details, you go by what’s in the story, you try to discover the narrative and you hook into the precise minute details. I opened the script and it’s the ultimate pop up book… His (Tarantino’s) script, you open it up and POP.”
Waltz went on to clean up at awards seasons everwhere, and will soon be seen again in another Tarantino revenge film, Django Unchained, this time as one of the good guys, a German Bounty Hunter who mentors Jamie Fox’s eponymous freed slave, out to rescue his still enslaved wife. As Hans Landa would say, “That’s a Bingo!”
Originally posted 2013-01-14 15:45:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter