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Oscar Thoughts, Part II: The Final Chapter—A New Beginning

How do Austrians feel about a fellow Austrian winning an Oscar—for playing a Nazi?

4:00 PM, Mar 8, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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On the one hand, Austrians are rightfully proud that one of their own is coming home with an Academy Award. Last night, Christoph Waltz took home the best supporting actor Oscar for his truly impressive performance in Quentin Tarentino's Inglourious Basterds. On the other hand, Waltz portrayed the archvillain, SS Colonel Hans Landa, aka "The Jew Hunter" (not to be confused with Eli Roth's role in the same film as "The Jew Bear").

Oscar Thoughts, Part II: The Final Chapter—A New Beginning

So does this make the win bittersweet? Or at the very least awkward—after all, Waltz didn't win for playing Captain Von Trapp. (Von Trapp was, of course, played by Christopher Plummer, who was also in the running for best supporting actor last night for his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy.)

"I congratulate Christoph Waltz on the Oscar win and I am very happy for his personal great achievement," said Austria's foriegn minister, Michael Spindelegger, without any reservations. And here in town, the Austrian embassy's press attaché, Wolfgang Renezeder, seconded those sentiments when I spoke to him this afternoon: "Of course we are very proud that Austria was awarded the Oscar," he said. Renezeder reminded me that the Academy Award for best foreign film two years ago went to The Counterfeiters, an Austrian pic that dealt with the Holocaust.

"This is representative of the new generation of Austrians who have more interest in this topic and dealing with these questions," explained Renezeder. He also noted that his government sponsors Austrians (18 and older) for yearlong internships at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and at other rememberance institutions such as Yad Vashem in Israel. (Austrians can choose this sponsorship in lieu of their mandatory military or civil service for the year.) The government also runs a program for Holocaust survivors abroad, hosting their return to the villages or cities they once fled and meeting with high school students throughout Austria. From the survivors' point of view, said Renezeder, "the feedback has been extremely positive." So in short, the answer is no, there is no awkwardness.

There was a bit of odd juxtaposition, however, when Die Presse covered Waltz's Oscar win just below a story about a candidate for the Austrian presidency, Barbara Rosenkranz, who recently questioned the constitutionality of her country's Verbotsgesetz—the law that bans Holocaust denial.

Regardless, kudos to Christoph Waltz for his commanding, scene-stealing performance. His acceptance speech is brief—upon receiving the Oscar statue from Penelope Cruz, Waltz quipped, "Oscar and Penelope, that's an über-bingo." In short, he said he owed everything to director Quentin Tarentino and praised him in the most cryptic way (for his "unorthodox methods of examination"). It is also doubtful that Waltz will be feeling the need to play a Nazi again any time soon. There's probably a better chance of him appearing in the sequel to Valentine's Day.

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