Inglourious+Basterds+Photocall+wIwLU3FYp02lBy Mallory Pickard

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the better part of 2009, you’ve already heard the buzz surrounding Inglourious Basterds, an ultimate cinematic package filled with enigmatic performances, ultra-violent imagery, and a revisionist World War II narrative created over the course of a decade by director Quentin Tarantino. There is speculation among critics that the movie may receive as many as eight Academy Award nominations, and no one can stop talking about Christoph Waltz’s extraordinarily wicked portrayal of Nazi officer Hans Landa, better known as “The Jew Hunter”.

Waltz is a rightful shoe-in for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but the buzz seems to have left one of the most crucial ingredients for the film’s success on the shelf. Both Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent deliver incendiary performances as the lethal, iconic female characters that have become synonymous with Tarantino films, and it is precisely these roles that transform an otherwise conventional war story into an Oscar-worthy masterpiece.

Diane Kruger (Troy, National Treasure) perfectly embodies the role of Bridget Von Hammersmark, a Nazi-beloved German actress who is secretly working undercover for the British. The fact that Kruger herself is a German-born actress raised in France lends to the authenticity of her character in a role that demands fluency in both languages in addition to English throughout the film.

The challenge of playing Bridget cannot be understated– Kruger is, after all, an actress playing an actress who must constantly switch gears between playing a glamorous starlet (who must also flirt with Nazis) and an insider femme fatale loyally allied with the Basterds. The description in itself sounds convoluted, but Kruger pulls it off with heart– and because of her ability to make Bridget both relatable and regal, her character’s eventual strangling at the hands of Hans Landa is much more haunting.

French actress Melanie Laurent similarly fuels the monstrous image of “The Jew Hunter” as Shoshanna Dreyfus, a Jewish cinema owner who is passionate about exacting revenge on the Nazi officer who executed her entire family. Fate falls into Shoshanna’s lap when her cinema is chosen as the site of a Nazi propaganda premiere starring the Reich’s deadliest sharpshooter (Daniel Bruhl) with none other than Landa as head of security for the event.

Shoshanna’s story is quite simply the heart of Inglourious Basterds. Her quiet rage as she dines with Landa is tangible, and her romantic tête-è-tête with the Reich’s most lethal (and most charming) soldier simmers perfectly in suspenseful irony until the entire thing boils over. Laurent’s command of her character’s simultaneously fervid and subtle vengefulness carries the film both into hauntingly poetic territory and to its violent, epic finale.

In short, Tarantino has successfully created and cast two more female icons to add to the ranks of Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill), and Patricia Arquette (True Romance). From the nail-biting tavern scene in which Kruger tries to mediate a tense showdown between the Nazis and the Basterds to the unforgettable climax in which Laurent’s own version of happily ever after is revealed (the movie begins with “Once upon a time…”), the female characters are unquestionably necessary, powerful, and unforgettable.

In an August 2009 interview with writer Kim Morgan, Tarantino explains late Nazi propaganda with a quote channeling Joseph Goebbels, the (real life) minister of Propaganda for the Nazis: “We’re not gonna win anymore battles on the battlefields, but we’re gonna win one in the cinemas.” Perhaps it was this idea that led to the creation of Basterds as a revisionist narrative in which the Nazis meet the fate they deserve– and perhaps it is the image of Shoshanna winning her battle in the cinema that has kept the film’s pre-autumn release fresh in every critic’s mind as we approach the 2010 Academy Awards.