Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit

Kiwi director Taika Waititi’s latest is a deliberately provocative “anti-hate satire” that ultimately proves to be one of the year’s best movies (even this late in the day).

Drawn from a very serious book by Christine Leunens (Caging Skies), this departs from Waititi’s melancholy character comedies (Eagle Vs. Shark, Boy, Hunt For The Wilderpeople), funny vampire mockumentary (What We Do In The Shadows) and entry into the Marvel and American bigtime (Thor: Ragnarok) with a pointed political tale designed to powerfully comment upon tense contemporary times.

Young Jojo (actually Johannes, and played by Roman Griffin Davis) is a Hitler-loving kid in Germany (actually the Czech Republic) late into World War Two. He’s introduced having an animated chat with a high-spirited Adolf (Waititi himself), who is then shown to be an imaginary figure as The Beatles start playing over infamous images from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will during the opening credits.

Hitler has, of course, been played by Swiss actors (Bruno Ganz in Downfall), Englishmen (Alec Guinness in Hitler: The Last Ten Days), actual Germans (Martin Wuttke in Inglourious Basterds) and many others, but he’s never been portrayed by a Maori/Jewish filmmaker before. Taika has acknowledged it as a major “F*** you!” bit of casting, and he uses a variation of the accent he adopted in Shadows and a string of anachronisms (“Correctamundo!”) while operating as a sort of mean-girl/Führer fairy-godmother.

Jojo is injured while training with hand grenades under the less-than-watchful eye of Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his scary assistant Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), and must recover at home with his mother Rosie (an excellent Scarlett Johansson, one of Taika’s Marvel pals). And it’s here that the kid makes a shocking discovery, as Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) – a Jew! – is found living between the walls.

Rosie is helping the kid hide, and Jojo is afraid to report her and face execution, so he starts to compile a book concerning all the shocking things about Jews that no one supposedly knows, and scenes where the mocking but weary Elsa agrees that she drinks blood and hangs upside down like a bat are amusing, but pretty damn confronting too. And while the war outside draws to its destructive climax, these kids grow closer.

Although Adolf has been shown as a buffoon before (by everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers, to Quentin Tarantino and, but of course, Mel Brooks), Waititi takes the basic notion much further, turning those notorious Nazi ideals on their heads to show how stupid and dangerous they were then – and they remain today.

And yes, some audiences might find the whole idea of laughing at Nazis offensive but, really, what else can we possibly do BUT reveal them as the fools they were, sorry, are? All heil!!!

Reviewer Rating

Jojo Rabbit (M) is in cinemas from 26 December

DM Bradley

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