wed 15/07/2020

Jojo Rabbit review - a risky balancing act | reviews, news & interviews

Jojo Rabbit review - a risky balancing act

Jojo Rabbit review - a risky balancing act

Decidedly novel approach to a tale of a 10-year-old German boy obsessed with Hitler

With imaginary friends like this, who needs enemies? Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in 'Jojo Rabbit'

Just as Joker was the most divisive film of 2019, so Jojo Rabbit may take the mantle for the early months of 2020. The issue is not that director Taika Waititi is making a comedy about the Nazis – plenty of filmmakers have done that, from Mel Brooks to Tarantino – but the manner in which he goes about it. For some, his “anti-hate satire” will be funny, inventive and hopeful, for others too cartoonish for its subject matter. In fact, it's all of those things. Waititi’s determinedly wacky path is certainly challenging.

Adapted from Christine Leunens’s novel Caging Skies, it focuses on Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) a 10-year-old German boy living with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) in a chocolate-box town, his father supposedly fighting in the last stages of the war.

Young Jojo is an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth, with an imaginary friend who is none other than the Führer himself (played by Waititi), who alternates between mentor, childlike ally, roaring megalomaniac and a camp buffoon who exhorts the kid to “Hail me, man!” Like all imaginary friends, he appears in times of stress and need, though it’s indicative of the unsavoury influences around Jojo that he should take this form.  Jojo RabbitWhat Jojo doesn’t know is that his mum is secretly opposed to the Third Reich and hiding a teenage Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), behind the wall of his late sister’s bedroom. When German resistance members are left hanging in the town square, Rosie prevents her son from looking away. “What did they do?” he asks. “What they could,” her carefully offhand reply. 

The boy’s coming of age and emergence from his indoctrination begins when he discovers the intelligent, lonely Elsa, who initially uses fear to dissuade him from giving her away. Slowly Jojo moves from anti-Semitic horror, to acceptance, then love. 

Waititi is a splendid filmmaker whose speciality is eccentric comedy (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) and clearly has no intention to approach this material differently. The Nazis here include Captain Klenendorf, played by Sam Rockwell as a wry showman with a penchant for plumed helmets and eyeliner, and Fraulein Raum (Rebel Wilson) a maniac who instructs her Hitler Youth class: “Now get your things together kids. It’s time to burn some books.” On seeing Jojo’s Hitler posters, Stephen Merchant’s Gestapo chief exclaims, “This is my kind of little boy’s bedroom.”

Jojo RabbitThey exist in a quirky, semi-fantasy world that could have been created by Wes Anderson, but in which the demonisation of Jews is constant and the very real risk for the resistance made heartbreakingly apparent. 

At times these contrasts grate rather than satirise. Yet there lingers a strange method to Waititi’s madness, should you wish to accept it. This is a far cry from Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, whose calculated sentimentality left one seething. Jojo Rabbit doesn’t feel that cynical. What saves it, makes it strangely, intensely touching, are the central performances: Johansson’s nuanced turn as the charismatic, defiant Rosie, McKenzie as a young woman who retains her pride despite constant fear, and Davis, astonishing in his first film, with a range of emotion that conveys the disturbance of children who did endure such vile brainwashing.

This is a far cry from Roberto Benigni’s risible 'Life is Beautiful', whose calculated sentimentality left one seething

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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