Tarantino’s ‘Basterds’ Pleases; IFC Buys Loach, ‘Antichrist’

You had to get up pretty early to score a spot at the very first screening of “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino’s new revenge fantasy set during World War II. Thousands of journalists mobbed the Palais de Festival, and even Harvey Weinstein himself was seen running frantically from one entrance to another as guards told him […]

You had to get up pretty early to score a spot at the very first screening of “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino’s new revenge fantasy set during World War II.

Thousands of journalists mobbed the Palais de Festival, and even Harvey Weinstein himself was seen running frantically from one entrance to another as guards told him non, monsieur, the room was ‘complet.’

I made it into the overflow screening room for more than two and a half hours of what was, for me, pure pleasure. Tarantino, who spent something like eight years wrestling with this script, has found himself in a newly mature space, without losing an ounce of the filmmaking joy that infuses his very best work.

It could be that I’ve been seduced by the cinephilic atmosphere, but it was hard to miss Tarantino’s skilled embrace of the elements that make theatrical moviegoing just plain great: scenes filled with dramatic tension, performances with depth and humor, rich and witty scoring choices, multi-lingual dialogue that Tarantino still stamps as his own, and knowing nods at cinematic history and the power of the medium he loves so well.

The trailer shortchanges the story as being about a group of Jewish soldiers sent behind the lines in Nazi-occupied France to extract brutal revenge. That is only part of it: Brad Pitt leads this group of “bastards” (Eli Roth, Til Schweiger) to scare the Nazis with their acts of vengeance.

But the story is equally that of a Jewish cinema-owner hiding in plain sight in Paris (Shosana, played by Martine Laurent), and her date with destiny in confronting the terrifying intelligence of SS officer Hans Landa, who murdered her family.

Pitt, back in stupid-southerner caricature as Aldo, is probably the least interesting person on the screen. Instead it is Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, an unknown to American audiences, who grabs the screen and walks off with the movie in one of the very best villainous portrayals in years. (My personal favorite screen Nazi is probably Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List”; but Landa just earned a top spot too.)

At the press conference following the screening, where much of the multi-national cast joined Tarantino carrying glasses of champagne, the director said that he came close to pushing off production of the film because they couldn’t find the right actor to play Landa.

“At a certain point I didn’t think I’d find the right actor,” he said. “I realized that the character was pretty special. And I knew whoever I chose had to be as good in languages as Hans Landa, otherwise he couldn’t play the role.”

It came down to the wire in a week when the money to shoot the movie was meant to be closed. “I called (Lawrence Bender) on Monday and said if we didn’t find Landa, I don’t have a film. Lawrence said, ‘Cool.’”

That same week Waltz came in to audition. After two sentences, the director and producer caught one another’s eyes across the room, and Tarantino said: “We’re making the movie,” he recounted.

At that, Waltz got up and planted a kiss on Tarantino in mid-conference.

That’s the way the director is with actors. “I love them from a God perspective,” said Tarantino. “Because to them, I’m God.”

Tarantino was never one for modesty, and why should he be?

As Brad Pitt says in the very last frame of the film, looking straight into the camera after a gruesome, signature task: “This might be my masterpiece.”

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More acquisitions announced on Wednesday:

The Weinstein Company bought two films, "The Fighter," to be directed by David O. Russell, and a comedy, "A Matter of Size."

Here’s part of the announcement:

"The Weinstein Company (TWC) has acquired from Relativity Media all international rights to The Fighter…The film, which is currently in pre-production, was written by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, with most recent script drafts by Scott Silver and Lewis Colick. David O. Russell will direct, and Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale will star.

"As a welterweight from the wrong side of the tracks, The Fighter tells the story of Dickie Eklund (Bale), the pride of working class Lowell, Massachusetts. Living in his shadow is his half-brother and sparring partner Micky Ward (Wahlberg)."

And IFC announced it had acquired the Ken Loach fable, "Looking for Eric," a charming film about a middle-aged British postman, visited in his imagination by the Manchester United soccer star, Eric Cantona, and one of the most controversial films at the festival, Lars von Trier’s "Antichrist."

From the announcement:

"The movie has been one of the most warmly received films at this year’s event and screened to a massive standing ovation and outbreak of cheers following its official showing on Monday night. Loach directed the film with his regular team including writer Paul Laverty and producer Rebecca O’Brien. It was executive produced by the legendary Manchester United superstar Eric Cantona along with Why Not Production’s Pascal Caucheteaux and Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval. Cantona also stars in the film with Steve Evets, John Henshaw, Stephanie Bishop and Lucy-Jo Hudson. Cantona’s original idea sparked the idea for the film and Laverty’s script."