The director's jokey prediliction for women's feet is well-known. Less discussed is how the fetish is a starting-gun for violence. The close-up of Uma's toes bracketed a rape and Rosario's leg was promptly torn off in Death Proof's looped slo-mo car crash. Sure enough, (spoilers ahead) the appearance of Diane's plates signals an interrogation that is about to turn nasty. I doubt modern audiences worry over the connection between sex and violence any more, much less fetishism, but they may be distracted by the bigger elephant in the room. To wit, if six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis in World War II, can an action comedy about a fictional band of Nazi-killing (American) Jews ever be enjoyed as a light-hearted piece of entertainment?
Tarantino solves this by reducing six million to a total of four. Colonal Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) kills a young family and the daughter escapes to seek revenge. The set-up is a staple of westerns and martial arts movies: we are invited to engage with the exploits of Nazis and Nazi killers as we would cowboys and Indians. Or Asians vs Asians. Or Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. All the characters in the movie are stereotyped, from Mike Myer's OSS officer to Brad Pitt's Aldo Ray. (We are reminded several times that the character is part-Indian.) I sensed no larger message in this. The subject of race and religion (let alone war and war crimes) seemed like merely another dart in the director's quiver. Like tracking shots and explosive squibs, race is used to heighten and release dramatic tension. If there's depth to it, it's only as a reference to other films.
Tarantino makes movies about movies, which his violent pastiche makes more comfortable viewing than say, Bryan Singer's orderly, putting-things-right Nazis in Valkyrie. (I assume Basterds intended as a Valkyrie parody.) Inglourious Basterds is fake and it's entertainment. Anyone who has watched the old World War II movies like The Eagle Has Landed and Cross of Iron will get a kick out of the Commando Comic lines and the "and now we must speak English" segues. I liked Basterds best when it was subtitled: the words running across the screen worked like post-post-modern quote marks, continually reminding us that what are seeing was never real.
My friend at the screening was less impressed: he thought Tarantino's unpredictably had become all-too predictable. Maybe, but like Death Proof, Basterds benefitted from being fixed firmly in a genre, and having sat through that 1970s crap the first time around I do enjoy seeing it so crisply recycled. Tarantino's dialogue still rambles but a foreign language improves it remarkably. The performances are punchier and the gags broader. Myers' character briefs a secret agent in a Pinewood Studio-sized "study" but Tarantino doesn't labour the joke as Myers did in Austin Powers.
The endings of QT's movies are becoming less cute, however. Basterds climaxes dramatically with an "alternative history" shoot out (Hitler and his staff riddled with machine gun bullets) but Col. Lander escapes with a pension and a special effects scar. Such a captivating character -- Christoph Waltz is scarier than Ralph Fiennes -- yet so little come-uppance for "the Jew hunter". Then again, he did only kill four...