Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Jojo Rabbit

My notes on Jojo Rabbit.

Yes, the one where director/writer Taika Waititi also plays Hitler – as the imaginary friend of a ten-year-old Nazi during the latter stages on WWII, with the sort of effete Maori Eurotrash accent Waititi used as the vampire in What We Do in the Shadows.  Vampires, of course, can be interviewed, twilighted and loved at first bite … Nazis are less biddable.

Based on a novel by Christine Leunens, it has a bold, absurdist feel, going against the grain by taking an upbeat approach to very grim subject matter – it begins with Johannes Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) ready to go to Hitler Youth camp, encouraged by his imaginary big kid fuhrer, and a titles montage set to the Beatles’ German cover of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and the film is acted in German-accented English with many contemporary expressions as a further distancing effect.  The point isn’t that Jojo is a little monster, but that he’s had his head filled with nonsense that now shrouds his basically sweet nature – he gets his nickname when he can’t kill a rabbit, and is so shamed that he does something foolish with a grenade that gets him scarred and limping.

When Jojo discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a teenage Jew, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, from Leave No Trace), in the walls of his dead sister’s room, the boy can’t bring himself to turn her in either, as he is becoming distantly aware of the capricious cruelty he has endorsed – but he takes to interrogating her as he tries to compile a book (Yoo-Hoo Jew) to help Nazis identify Jews, which morphs from a collection of cartoonish fantasies into an odd wish fulfilment comic as he forges and ‘finds’ letters from Elsa’s absent boyfriend (of whom he becomes jealous).  The girl is angry and intimidating, playing up to the kid’s fantasies of Jews as monsters who sleep upside-down like bats – when he rattles off prejudice about the race’s weakness, she gets him in a chokehold and insists ‘there are no weak Jews’ with frightening ferocity.  Around this strange love story, in which the real Elsa slowly replaces the imagined Adolf in Jojo’s life, are vignettes about other decent people who are trying their best.  When Jojo asks his mother what people who have been hanged in the street did, she tells him ‘they did the best they could’ … which extends to her own subversive activities.

The one-eyed knockabout veteran (Sam Rockwell) who runs the HJ platoon and his sidekick (Alfie Allen) are also plainly at odds with their professed ideology – fond of each other and eager to try on self-designed flamboyant uniforms – though there’s a scariness to the way other comic misfits, from Jojo’s tubby pal Yorki (Archie Yates) to a manic Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), commit to a cause that’s likely to get them killed, but not before they’ve done incalculable harm to Europe.  As with many comedies on this theme, it’s possible to accuse it of being soft on Nazism – though Stephen Merchant strides in a Gestapo man who’s no less frightening for being ridiculous – in that we are asked to forgive those who’ve gone along with the unforgivable … but the performances of Davis and McKenzie, whose relationship is theatrically strange but always believable, aptly convey the horrors that give their eventual love context.  The film is partly in love with fascist kitsch – kids dressed up as cardboard robots on a metal drive for the war effort – but is wholly besotted with small acts of rebellion, which finds characters often on the point of dancing.  This is radically soft-hearted and good-natured.



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