The SAG nominees: Why they chose the wrong actress from 'Inglourious Basterds'

I thought the Screen Actors Guild showed more or less impeccable taste in their nominations this year (though for Best Cast, how could they have possibly forsaken the sublimely acted Up in the Air…and picked the hot warblers of Nine instead?). So in drawing attention to one performer, in particular, whom they left out of the Best Supporting Actress category, I solemnly promise you that I won’t exploit the s-word. (I’ll at least say it out loud once: snub.) What I will note is that this particular omission is worth talking about, if only because I flat-out adore this performance and I suspect that many others do too.

Take a look, for a moment, at the image just above. The woman in it is dressed — and poised — to kill, so when you first see her, there’s no question that she looks like a classic Quentin Tarantino heroine, maybe some apprentice vixen warming up to star in Kill Bill 2015. But look closer at the face: the delicate cheekbones and pensive rosebud mouth, the nearly Chaplinesque almond eyes. That’s not the mien of a born killer; it’s the pose of a sensitive, thoughtful young woman who’s been pushed to the brink, and still nurses a doubt or two about going there. That’s Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds, inventing what amounts to a new screen type: the vengeful nice Jewish girl next door. And it’s that special balance — between sweetness and fire, with ferocity made wistful — that renders this tenderly tough performance so memorable.

In the film, when Laurent, as escaped-French-Jewish-refugee-turned-Paris-movie- theater-owner Shosanna Dreyfus, puts on that dress, and applies lipstick to match, preparing for the big night in which she’ll attempt to blow up her own theater because the Nazi high command (including Hitler) will be there, Tarantino captures her cosmetic transformation from innocent girl in hiding to blood-red undercover vamp by playing the great 1982 David Bowie-Giorgio Moroder collaboration “Cat People (Putting Out Fire).” It’s a song that is soaring, operatic, transcendent — and, in Inglourious Basterds, it becomes an anthem of noirish dread and excitement, a sign that Laurent, as Shosanna, has found her destiny.

Before that, though, she’s a touching and fascinating waif-temptress, pure of heart but with too many things to hide. She must fend off the advances of an eager, rather doltish young Nazi war hero, and she also finds herself face to face with Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa, the impishly deductive SS colonel who, three years before, murdered the rest of her family. Does the all-knowing Landa now know that it’s her? During their café chat, over strudel and cream, he just about sparkles with politely sadistic interrogative glee, and Laurent, as Shosanna, volleys back his question and squirms — exquisitely. This is high-tension acting, and when the scene is over, and Shosanna practically collapses in a rush of fear and relief, the audience is bonded to her.

None of which is to say that Diane Kruger, who costars in Inglourious Basterds as Bridget von Hammersmark, a celebrity German actress-turned-allied secret agent, is anything less than terrific. She’s the one who received the SAG nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and I applaud her for it. (The Weinstein Company may have positioned Laurent as a contender for Best Actress; in an ensemble piece like this one, where no one role commands too much screen time, that was surely a mistake.) Yet if Kruger is deft and gorgeous, Laurent is radiant and, in a unique Tarantino way, heartbreaking. During her final speech, which is seen on film — a declaration to the Nazis that their reign of rage is over — Tarantino shoots her like the Wizard of Oz, as a giant hovering black-and-white face. Sexy and luminous in the heat of her valor. Putting out fire — and setting it.

Comments (71 total) Add your comment
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  • James Kent

    The reason may be simple – Is Melanie Laurent a SAG member? Their rules may still allow a nomination, but it may have been a factor in her being overlooked.

    • jojo

      i’m french and i didnt find melanie laurent so great in this film….
      french critics also didnt really like her performance, at the contrary they loved christopher waltz .
      for me she doesnt deserve an award, she just an average french actress…
      here in france nobody thinks she’s a great actress anyways..

      • Q-A

        Dude, that is CRAZY. Have you need seen “Je vais bien ne t’en fais pas”, ‘Jusqu’à toi” ou “Le Concert”?
        She is great, I’m French and I love her, and don’t make dumb generalizations!

      • wpamela

        i think she performes well in the projection room …

    • Kendra

      If she wasn’t a SAG member, she wouldn’t have been allowed in the film. SAG has contracts with every major director that they will only use SAG members.

      • Christine

        I doubt that rule applies when a movie is shot abroad, as Inglourious Basterds was (Germany, France). The German/Austrian and French actors appearing in the film wouldn’t need to be SAG members, so I assume someone like Christoph Waltz isn’t a SAG member either, although he was nominated.

      • Alicia

        Actually…thats not entirely true. SAG does have contracts, but it doesn’t require they ONLY use SAG members. Rather, it usually requires that a certain number of people, or a certain number of hours of screen time, be from SAG members.

  • nick

    THANK YOU

  • Aaron

    I’ve heard that they were campaigning her in lead, which probably deferred her from getting several votes…but still, I agree, LOVE melanie laurent….and diane kruger, too!

  • Yalie

    While I agree with you completely about the superiority of Laurent’s performance to Kruger’s, I did read that Laurent has been bumped (I would say rightly) to Lead Actress in the awards race, so she was likely not actually in contention with Kruger.

  • graeme

    Laurent was submitted as Lead. Diane Kruger was fantastic as well, and it was a great surprise to see her nominated.
    Although that meant Julianne Moore wasn’t nominated, you deserves to win for her awesome work in “A Single Man”.

  • Fatima

    Best performance of the year.

  • Kelsey

    Agreed. I have nothing against Diane Kruger, and she was GREAT in the film, but if only one of the women had gotten the nod, it should’ve been Laurent.
    But James Kent makes a good point — if Laurent isn’t a SAG member and/or is relatively unknown, that could have been the deciding factor.

  • Emma

    She was truly amazing. The scene with her and Christoph Waltz is so subtle yet so strong. When he finally orders that glass of milk…

    • Nick T

      The image of her laughing on the screen as the theater goes up in flames is forever burned into my memory. She took a great film and elevated it to a very special place.

  • laurence

    Laurent isn’t that well known here asides from this role. Perhaps it was the recognition. Sometimes a major breakthrough that gets considerable attention can land a nod, but it should be on the scale of Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Hudson, and the like. Laurent was a standout but not the one thing everyone was truly gushing about on Basterds. Oscar can still surprise, though!

  • colin

    I knew this would happen when I saw the film. It’s quite clearly about Laurent and Christoph Waltz, with the Basterds providing a backdrop. At least Waltz was nominated, though he was about as supporting as Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward ROBERT FORD.” I mean he was in the title for cripes’ sake.

  • Olaf Jubin

    SAG only nominated Diane Kruger because none of them understands German. If they did they would recognize that not only all of her German line are atrocious but also that her diction (or rather her lack thereof) is all wrong for a German film star of the 1940s.

    • Nicole

      Isn’t she German born and raised?

    • Thomas

      What Olaf Jubin wrote is simply not true: ALL German language scenes in the movie were PERFECTLY played (I am Austrian), and Diane Kruger showed geat subtlety in switching between her persona as UFA diva and her secret identity as spy.

    • Kelsey

      Um, Diane Kruger IS German. I also speak German fairly fluently (although not well enough to make recognize specific regional variations), and I thought everyone did fine.
      The diction may have been off if she’d been IN A FILM within the film, but just casually speaking it, she did fine.

    • Daria

      Diane Kruger is German but she was putting on an accent in the film. She has an american accent in real life. However, I think people can watch the movie and accept her as the character. If someone like say Kirsten Dunst had played the role people would have been more critical. She pulled it off well. But Melanie Laurent should have been nominated instead. It would have been cool if both girls got an Oscar nomination but Up in the Air ladies are already taking up the spots.

      • JillJohn

        Not so. Diane wasn’t “putting on an accent” and she does not speak American as her first language. She has spent the last few years mastering English for her film work (and I suppose now speaks it more with an American-Canadian boyfriend) but has a very distinct GERMAN accent even still and often needs assistance to find the right “American” wording. She lived in Germany well into her teens and then moved to Paris. (She also speaks fluently in French by the way). It’s not like she is an American with German roots–she is German.

  • The Dude

    The thing is that with SAG (and a few other awards bodies) you have to submit your name in one specific category…I’m pretty sure Laurent was submitted as lead actress (by whoever does these submissions…the producers, I guess?). So while, yes, I agree that Laurent gave one of the best performances of the movie (and the year), there was absolutely no way she would have gotten a supporting nod because she was not submitted for contention. The good thing is that the Oscars are completely different…the voters will determine category placement, so there’s a chance she could snag a nom IF AND ONLY IF there is a consensus as to where she should be placed (which shouldn’t be too hard…voters found it PRETTY EASY last year with Kate Winslet).

    • peggym

      The Supporting category is being really misused, as a way to get a leading player a win. Javier bardim was a lead in “No Country for Old Men”, no matter what category he was put in. Hal Holbrook did an amazing job in a true supporting role in “Into the Wild”. They shouldn’t have been competing against each other.It’s a way to get a win if there’s someone else outstanding in the lead category.

      • Kelsey

        I notice this happens a lot. Casey Affleck wasn’t supporting, either, and I’m argue that neither was Heath Ledger.

  • Spencer

    Finally some love for Melanie Laurent. I have been wondering why she hasn’t been mentioned in the same breathes as Christoph Waltz, who seems to be getting the majority of the attention (for good reason, don’t get me wrong). She carried the emotional weight of the movie on her shoulders, and that Cat People scene was breathtaking.

  • grumbles

    Minority report. . . .

    Did anyone see PARIS? Laurent plays the cafe scene in contemporary Paris the same way she plays it in BASTERDS. I just didn’t find her performance that compelling; her big scene is a beautifully realized music video. Sorry, she doesn’t deserve an award.

    • Brian

      You are so wrong to say that you idiot. Laurent had the meatier role than Kruger and I was surprised in a way that Kruger was nominated (although nothing that wrong with it )and not Laurent.

      • trent

        “you idiot?” Who’s the idiot?

  • Dave

    Owen, I completely agree with this. Melanie Laurent was fantastic in this film. She was basically the heart of the story. I loved Diane Kruger as well, and I’m happy she was awarded with a nomination. But Laurent deserved one as well. She should not have been pushed for a Best Actress nod. That was a mistake and cost her a nomination. Like I said, Laurent was the heart of the film, but that doesn’t mean her role was a lead role. She wasn’t onscreen enough. If they positioned her as Supporting Actress, she surely would have received a nomination.
    I feel better about her chances for an Oscar nod. Even if she is being campaigned as Best Actress, the Academy will probably ignore that and put her in the Supporting Actress category, similar to how they placed Kate Winslet’s performance in The Reader as lead instead of supporting.

    • Marylynn

      Kate Winslet never should have been placed in supporting for the reader that’s why she won best actress for it.

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