Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France: ‘Inglorious Basterds’ First Scene Explained

By  · Published on March 20th, 2017

How QT established his film’s central tension in the opening minutes.

The opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is a 17-page slow boil that introduces us to Colonel Hans Landa (Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz), aka “The Jew Hunter,” as he pays a visit to a dairy farmer in the idyllic French countryside. He’s there because of all the Jewish families living in the area, only one hasn’t been accounted for, which Waltz believes is because someone – namely the dairy farmer – is hiding them from the Nazis. As he downs the farmer’s delicious milk, Landa calmly, cooly, and masterfully manipulates the farmer through false promises to reveal that he in fact is the one hiding the unaccounted-for family. This is when Landa shows his true colors by inviting his troops inside to spray bullets through the floorboards, killing all the hiding family except for young daughter Shoshanna, who Landa allows to escape into the hills.

It’s a time bomb of a scene – after all, there’s no such thing as a polite Nazi – and more than being yet another exemplary example of Tarantino’s prowess with dialogue and character, according to the latest video essay from Michael Tucker for his Lessons from the Screenplay channel on YouTube entitled “Inglourious Basterds – The Elements of Suspense,” it’s also a masterclass in building an entire film’s dramatic tension from a single scene.

Too often, I think, when we talk about Tarantino the writer we linger on what I first mentioned above, his characters and their dialogue, and while that is certainly one of QT’s fortes, never forget that he is also a ridiculously talented storyteller capable of creating unique moods, atmospheres, and tones at the same time he’s shocking us with words and actions.

Y’all know by now how much I dig Tucker’s work, and yet again I find myself saying this could be his best essay to date and whole-heartedly believing it. Press play and judge for yourself.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist