Hollywood's Jewish Avenger





...I found myself sitting beside Quentin Tarantino’s pool in the Hollywood Hills, listening in wonder as the writer and director of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction diagnosed what he saw as the essential, maddening flaw of every Holocaust movie ever made.

“Holocaust movies always have Jews as victims,” he said, plainly exasperated by Hollywood’s lack of imagination. “We’ve seen that story before. I want to see something different. Let’s see Germans that are scared of Jews. Let’s not have everything build up to a big misery, let’s actually take the fun of action-movie cinema and apply it to this situation.”...

...Munich, though, is a neurotic’s delight in comparison to Tarantino’s preposterous, sporadically brutal, and greatly entertaining new film, Inglourious Basterds. (The misspellings are intentional, for reasons that Tarantino won’t fully explain.) Though he opens the film with the murder of a Jewish family in a French farmhouse, he spends much of the rest of the two-and-a-half-hour film allowing his Jewish characters—including a beautiful young woman named Shoshanna, the only survivor of the farmhouse massacre—to beat Nazis, scalp Nazis, burn Nazis, and carve swastikas into the foreheads of Nazis. Inglourious Basterds is part Dirty Dozen, part Sergio Leone, part Leon Uris—but not much Night and Fog or Shoah, and certainly not much Schindler’s List...

...But Tarantino, a famously derivative filmmaker, has managed to create out of these parts something that seems entirely new: a story of emotionally uncomplicated, physically threatening, non-morally-anguished Jews dealing out spaghetti-Western justice to their would-be exterminators.

The film tracks two separate, though converging, plotlines: the revenge conspiracy of Shoshanna, who, after her escape from the almost comically evil SS officer Hans Landa, recreates herself as a cinema owner in Paris; and the deployment in occupied France of the “Basterds,” a squad of American Jewish Nazi-hunters led by an officer nicknamed “Aldo the Apache,” who is played by Brad Pitt and who is meant to be a Tennessee hillbilly, not a Jew, because even Quentin Tarantino understands that there are limits to plausibility. Shoshanna’s plan and the Basterds’ mission come together in Paris, with world-historical consequences. Suffice it to say that Tarantino brings about the end of World War II in a way that would please Jews, and most everyone else, including devotees of David Bowie, who sings “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” as the Third Reich collapses. Along the way, the Basterds terrorize German soldiers and even Hitler himself...

...“I hate that hand-wringing shit,” he said. He had a revelation in his early 20s, he recalled, when he saw Red Dawn, a Cold War revenge fantasy in which a group of American high-school students, the “Wolverines,” battle Soviet and Central American soldiers who invade Colorado. “The Wolverines capture a soldier, and there’s a little bit of back-and-forth—should we kill him or not—and C. Thomas Howell just blows him away with his shotgun,” Tarantino recalled. “Those are the kind of things you say, ‘That’s exactly what I would do.’ It’s what I want to see, and when I don’t see it, I become frustrated, and then it feels like a movie as opposed to real life.”

He went on, “When you watch all the different Nazi movies, all the TV movies, it’s sad, but isn’t it also frustrating? Did everybody walk into the boxcar? Didn’t somebody do something?”...

...When Tarantino asked me how I thought his film would be received in Israel—he’s visiting for the first time this summer, to promote the film—I told him that Israelis, who have actual experience with physical power (in a way that most Jews over the course of the past 2,000 years did not), might not take to the film in the way that many of their American cousins might. Some Israeli liberals, including the country’s many filmmakers, might not like his movie very much at all...



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