Nerd Moment: Shosannah, the cream, and Colonel Landa

01.03.10 8 years ago 15 Comments

The Weinstein Company

I’m such a baby sometimes.

All film nerds are at some point when discussing and debating the things they love or the things that drive them crazy, which are pretty much the only things that seem worth discussion and debate to film nerds.  That’s sort of what makes them film nerds.  You may also be a cineaste or a movie lover or whatever particular strain or subculture of film nerddom you feel defines you, but at heart, if you’re reading about movies more than once a day, you are a film nerd.  J’accuse.

I think there are scenes that emerge from the conversation about films that are worth further debate and discussion here on the blog, and maybe we should institute this as an occasion feature, when the circumstance presents itself.  Here’s a perfect example.

Earlier tonight, I’m on Twitter, and Will Goss (damn youse, Goss, for starting this!) pops by:

@williambgoss:  I have never had a strudel before, I have never wanted one before seeing this movie, and I have never wanted one more after.

Doesn’t even say what he’s watching.  Doesn’t have to.  That scene is one of my favorite moments from “Inglourious Basterds.”  I love Melanie Laurent as Shosanna by that point in the film… the way she’s doing her best to deflect the attentions of Daniel Bruhl as Pvt. Zoller, the way she’s starting to piece together who he is and what a symbol he is, and then suddenly, she’s swept into this meeting with the heads of the organization that destroyed her family.  Goebbels, for god’s sake, sitting at a table with her.  And to her credit, she plays it cool.

But then Tarantino turns it up in the most obvious way possible, and he milks it for everything it’s worth.

Pun fully intended.

It gets crazy when Landa joins them and suddenly she’s confronted with the man who killed them.  Not symbolically, like the man who gave the orders, but literally the man who did it.  Who hunted her family down and destroyed them.  That’s already sort of like being kicked with a razor-tipped boot, right in the gut, and she just has to sit there and act normal. 

Shosanna’s got to be in shock.  She’s got to be hearing the sound of the blood in her own ears, the screams of her family, the smells of that day and the feeling of the sun on her as she ran… tactile flashback, no doubt, as she looks at Landa sitting there.

And she has to talk to him.

She has to leave that table alive.

I love that scene.  I love the way Landa is constantly playing power games.  He’s a freak.

I wrote back to Goss on Twitter:

@DrewAtHitFix:  @williambgoss Best subtle touch in that scene: cream is not kosher, so Landa ordering it is one more test for Shosanna.

Now, that’s my understanding going into the conversation.  I know there is kosher cream and kosher butter and other kosher dairy products, and that it’s common and easy to do.  But I guess I always assumed that since you specify “kosher cream,” that sort of implies that in general, cream cannot be assumed to be kosher.

The whole sequence with Landa is him testing her.  One little poke after another to see how she reacts.  We see him do it in the opening scene.  We see him do it in later scenes with other people.  It’s his thang, so to speak.  My read was that the extra added poke of ordering the cream and putting it on her food without asking or even hesitating… that was another way to twist and see if someone flinches.

It’s not a thunderclap.  I even said I thought it was subtle.  But I got called on it right away.  And here’s where being a big baby comes in, because of course, I got pissy as soon as someone called me on my little pet theory.  I liked that read on the scene.  I like the idea that it’s one more goad, but almost immediately, I got a few responses, like.

@devincf:  @DrewAtHitFix I don’t think that’s true. While she may not have been able to be sure the cream he served WAS kosher, cream can be kosher


@HitFixDaniel: @DrewAtHitFix  What’s unkosher about cream? She wasn’t eating it with a steak. Odds are the character’s a secular Jew anyway.

So that degenerates into a long string of posts back and forth that boils down to me having a profound misunderstanding, evidently, of kosher rules and, more importantly, refusing to admit that, and people also talking about how Landa isn’t testing her in that scene because if he suspected who she was, he’d just have her killed right there.  Which actually isn’t what I meant, since I read it as more general.  I don’t think he recognizes her, I just think he is poking her because it’s his job, and he’s a prick, and he enjoys exercising that sort of control and testing people.  But that entire digression turns into another conversation, and meantime, the kosher thing becomes a big back and forth, and I seriously am puzzled by how much I seem to have misread my basic understanding of dairy and kosher.  What I ultimately find funny about the whole thing is how, like most film nerd talk, things get down to such a micro level on what’s being discussed that we forget we started by talking about the macro. 

My misread of the nature of Landa’s goad is still valid in that he is goading her.  He’s a smiling shit, and everything he does, everything he says, seems designed to get a reaction out of people.

Eventually, I went straight to the source, Tarantino’s script for the scene, to see what he specified and didn’t.  And he clarifies that what’s really key is the glass of milk, because right after Landa orders it, Tarantino writes:

“Considering Shosanna grew up on a dairy farm, and the last time she was on a dairy farm, her strudel companion murdered her entire family, his ordering her milk is, to say the least… disconcerting.

The key to Col Landa’s power, and or charm, depending on the side one’s on, lies in his ability to convince you he’s privy to your secrets.”

The cream seems to be more about control, about ordering her food she doesn’t want, then making her wait to take a bite, then forcing her to eat it a certain way, microanalyzing her response.  It’s a great microscope moment by him.

So even though I seem to have been talking out of my ear about the kosher thing, I’m actually glad this flurry of contentious pissiness on my part led to a number of you guys talking about the scene itself, one more reminder of why I seriously hope the Academy throws some nomination lovin’ Tarantino’s way this year.  The script he wrote is the gift that keeps on giving, with characters whose motives and behavior is rich and interesting enough to merit this sort of conversation, and in particular, the way he’s built Landa just fascinates me.

Melanie Laurent sells everything I was talking above, the levels of shock that Shosanna goes through, and her barely-restrained revulsion at being in the presence of Landa.  And Christoph Waltz in that scene makes me laugh just as much as he makes me squirm.  It’s a great mini-movie, an entire relationship and trial by fire, all played out in a quiet conversation in a restaurant.

Anyway, my apologies to @devincf and to our own @HitFixDaniel for being such a twat, but my thanks to them for provoking me to go examine the scene again.  I owe you both a beer at Sundance.

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