In an op-ed distributed by the Anti-Defamation League this week, the group’s national director, Abraham Foxman makes the case for “Inglourious Basterds” to win the Best Picture Oscar.
Noting the trend of Holocaust films that began with Spielberg’s 1993 “Schindler’s List,” Foxman notes that Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-killing action film puts “a new twist on the Holocaust genre for a new time and a new audience” and describes the film as “an allegory about good and evil and the no-holds-barred efforts to defeat the evil personified by Hitler, his henchmen and his Nazi regime.”
“Inglorious Basterds” is a good film. Christopher Waltz richly deserves the Best Supporting Actor nod for his brilliant portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, the stone-cold, milk-drinking “Jew Hunter” who seems to fit the bill of most Nazi officers we know about: well-educated, efficient and charming yet stunningly acquiescent to and complicit in evil.
I don’t know how good the film’s chances are, though, of getting the Best Picture statue since it’s up against some serious competition. Films like “Avatar” that combine good performances with the latest special effects and good directing tend to sweep the contest. And 17 years after “Schindler,” it’s not likely the Academy is feeling pressured to encourage production of more Holocaust films — it’s already happening.
Still, Foxman argues that “Basterds” should be rewarded for both its educational and escapist potential. “Hopefully the millions who see it will understand the horrors of the Holocaust and echo my view of “if only it were true!,” he writes.
Absent from Foxman’s assessment is the fact that the squad of Basterds in the film, led by Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine, make no pretense of being out to rescue Jews. Their unlikely mission is only to engage and capture, then torture and execute Nazis. In doing otherwise, Tarantino would have run the risk of exaggerating the U.S. effort to stop the genocide, which was virtually nonexistent.
In contrast, after seeing Ed Zwick’s 2008 “Defiance,” Foxman wouldn’t have to say “if only it were true.” The film is based on the largely unsung Bielski Brigade, who not only killed Nazis, but rescued thousands of Jews in Belarus.
Foxman doesn’t mention “Defiance” in his run-down of recent noteworthy Holocaust films. But while “Basterds” was more entertaining on many levels, “Defiance” is surely the better film because it reminds us that, while there were many non-Jewish saviors (Nazi-hunting commando leaders not among them) in all too many cases it was left to the Bielskis and other Jewish partisans of Europe to save their own skin.
If “Basterds” were up against “Defiance” for Best Picture, I hope Abe Foxman would root for the true story. Since it isn’t, I’ll join him in his pick, while strongly recommending “Defiance” as a more realistic look at “the horrors of the Holocaust” and the “no holds-barred efforts to defeat the evil personified by Hitler.”