Harvey Weinstein on Those "Amazing" Holocaust Survivors

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Earlier this week, I dispatched Goldblog Deputy Managing Editor for Supercilious Party Coverage Tali Yahalom to New York, from where she hails in any case, to attend the advance screenings of "Inglourious Basterds," in order to gather up interesting comments from genuine Jewish leaders about the film's more controversial (which is to say, sadistic) qualities. In any case, Holocaust scholars were fairly scarce (unless you count Harvey Weinstein as a Holocaust scholar). On the other hand, she met Padma Lakshmi.

At the first screening of the week, Quentin Tarantino introduced his work by asking attendees if they were ready "to see some Basterds fuck up some Nazis," and at the second, Harvey Weinstein assured the room that a group of Holocaust survivors really liked the Basterds.

Below is a round-up of what the actors and Weinstein said about the production:

Christoph Waltz, who plays a Nazi colonel known as the Jew Hunter:

TY: Do you think that there is too much Jewish vengeance in the film?

CW: No, because the vengeance in that respect is not entirely Jewish. If you would have been at the premiere in Berlin, you would have felt the relief that goes through the audience to finally see this thing. This is the third generation after the war, and the topic is really overburdening - for good reasons. And the responsibility is still there. That's my point of view. But the guilt is a different story. It's not only a Jewish vengeance story -- it is what kind of world we could have if things were sort of inspired by that kind of energy.

Diane Kruger, who plays a German movie-star working as a secret agent for the British:

TY: As a German actress, how did you prepare for the role and research the time period?

DK: Trust me, we learn about [the Holocaust] very early on. This is not a historically correct movie, so it was actually fun to take little pieces of what actually happened and then have an entirely new story made up. ... We all know what happened, and there have been so many movies about WWII -- important films -- and this is sort of the wishful thinking one. We all wish it would have happened like this.

Melanie Laurent, who plays a theater owner named Shoshanna, who plots to avenge her family death after they are slaughtered by the Nazis:

TY: Are you nervous about how your Jewish friends will react to the film?

ML: I wasn't worried. I think it's amazing ... [and] I met a lot of reporters from Jewish magazines and they just love the movie. They just love the idea of finally changing the story. We met that dream.

Eli Roth, who kills Nazis in the movie and in sort-of real life, via the videogame he created:  

TY: You were raised Jewish and your grandparents are Holocaust survivors. Is this movie a longtime coming for you?

ER: Well, let me put it this way: there weren't a lot of Holocaust survivors in my family. My grandparents go out but my distant relatives were murdered in the Holocaust. So it was a very intense experience doing this. Something I'd grown up thinking about and fantasizing about was killing Nazis, and what was so great was that the German actors had fantasized about the same thing. And when we were filming, they'd go, 'Isn't this great? We're killing them together. We're killing these basterds together.' It was very cathartic for all of us.

Harvey Weinstein:

TY: Is there too much Jewish vengeance in the film?

HW: We understand some of that. You understand the [film's] humanity and you start to understand how far vengeance goes and when it should stop. The film makes you understand when it's too much.

TY: Does the film make viewers sympathetic to Nazis?

HW:
No, not sympathetic with the Nazis, but just understanding what vengeance really means and how far to go.

TY: Were you worried about the Jewish reception, especially among Holocaust survivors?

HW: Yes. Not worried, but concerned, because that's tough territory to tread on. I did Life is Beautiful and that was initially received by the French press, not great, but then the survivors all saw it and loved the movie. Survivors never surprise me with their incredible resilience, their ability to understand that art is an interpretation of events, and they're just so amazing.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2009/08/harvey-weinstein-on-those-amazing-holocaust-survivors/23437/