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Tarantino reflects on ‘Basterds’

Director aimed to finish film in time for Cannes

Quentin Tarantino is so high on the Cannes experience that he worked at a breakneck pace to shoot and edit the 165-page epic-sized WWII drama “Inglourious Basterds” in eight months. And when the writer-director bows his film on Wednesday, he says, “I’m expecting this to be one of the high moments of my career.”

Reflecting on the pic over a hamburger at the Carlton Hotel, Tarantino said it was worth the struggle to debut his third film in competition. (Tarantino won the 1994 Palme D’Or for “Pulp Fiction” and also brought “Death Proof”).

“This is the cinematic Olympics,” Tarantino said. “What an exciting year for auteurs this year, with four Palme d’Or winners. If you’ve done a movie you’re proud of, that you might be defined by, then to me the dream is not necessarily to be there at Oscar time. That’s wonderful. But my dream is to always go to present the film at Cannes.

“There is nothing like it in cinema,” he said. “Nobody has seen your film. It’s a wet print, fresh out of the lab. The entire world film press is here, and they all see it, at one time. The greatest film critics in the world, who are still critics, and they’re all fighting and debating it. When you think back on your career, it comes down to these high moments. That level of excitement is unparalleled.”

Getting to the Croisette took discipline. The film had the same 10-week production schedule as “Pulp Fiction,” fast for a period war movie shot in Europe.

And the film came in at a running time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, shorter than some had expected.

“Directors in my situation don’t normally go this direction, especially when they’re doing something really big. If you have three days scheduled for a scene, it’s easy to (add) the fourth day. It’s nice to have all the time you need, but when you slow down, I think that marbled fat is felt in the pacing. I didn’t want easy and comfortable and I do feel that energy is evident on the screen.”

Tarantino flirted with his WWII project for years, once considering it as a miniseries, even a novel, before stripping down to the story of a brigade of brutal soldiers sent to hunt Nazis, and led by Brad Pitt, the biggest star Tarantino has directed.

Said Tarantino: “Once, I was talking to a big actor who said, ‘You’re afraid of stars. You want to be the guy.’ I never feel like I need a star, but a lot of the great Hollywood directors I respect all worked with stars and so there was this aspect in the back of my mind where it was time to do that.

“Brad is an actor I treated just like the other actors, who happens to be this huge movie star. But he is such perfect casting for this character that if Brad Pitt wasn’t famous, I’d have lobbied for him to have the role.”

While he gave several plum roles to unexpected performers — “Hostel” helmer Eli Roth has a large role, Mike Myers plays a British intelligence agent — no actor has a bigger starmaking opportunity than Christoph Waltz, a German TV actor who plays Hans Landa, the cunning SS Colonel who is the primary antagonist of the Basterds.

“Landa is a linguistic genius, and the actor who played him needed the same facility with language or he would never be what he was on the page,” Tarantino said.

Tarantino grew so frustrated at casting that role, he was five days away from calling off the movie when Waltz auditioned.

“I told my producers I might have written a part that was un-playable,” Tarantino said. “I said, I don’t want to make this movie if I can’t find the perfect Landa, I’d rather just publish the script than make a movie where this character would be less than he was on the page. When Christoph came in and read the next day, he gave me my movie back.”

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