A dark, satir­i­cal com­edy


The Citizen (KZN) - - Front Page - Pe­ter Feld­man

Un­com­fort­ably amus­ing and un­apolo­get­i­cally in­sen­si­tive to the hor­rors of war.

Ahot Os­car favourite is Taika Waititi’s dark, satir­i­cal com­edy Jojo Rab­bit, an en­gross­ing pro­duc­tion which gives Nazi Ger­many a se­vere kick up you-know-what.

The film, based on Chris­tine Le­unen’s book Cag­ing Skies, con­cerns an in­ept 10-year-old Hitler Youth mem­ber named Jo­hannes “Jojo” Bet­zler (Ro­man Grif­fin Davis), who ex­pe­ri­ences and views the war all through his in­no­cent eyes.

The film has re­ceived no fewer than six Os­car nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing Best Pic­ture, Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress for Scar­lett Jo­hans­son and Best Adapted Screen­play, and has al­ready gar­nered sev­eral other awards.

It goes to great lengths to de­pict Adolph Hitler (played by the film’s New Zealand di­rec­tor Taika Waitiki) as an ego­tis­ti­cal buf­foon who com­mu­ni­cates in imag­i­nary ses­sions with the key char­ac­ter, Jojo, who tells the young boy the path he should take dur­ing the later stages of World War II as the Third Re­ich be­gins dis­in­te­grat­ing.

Af­ter sur­viv­ing a dis­as­trous youth train­ing camp in which he al­most kills him­self with a hand grenade, Jojo is back home, scarred and a lit­tle shaken by his or­deal, but is now un­der the wing of his de­voted sin­gle mother, Frau Rosie Bet­zler (Jo­hans­son). She is se­cretly an anti-Nazi sym­pa­thiser, a point rammed home when Jojo dis­cov­ers a young Jewess Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKen­zie) hid­ing in their at­tic. She is Jojo’s late sis­ter’s for­mer class­mate.

It is through this bright teenager that Jojo is in­fused with the many myths about the Jewish com­mu­nity as told by the Ger­mans. Their frac­tured re­la­tion­ship marks some of the film’s many high points.

As the nar­ra­tive un­folds, Jojo has to ques­tion his be­liefs, while pro­cess­ing the ab­surd in­struc­tions given by Herr Hitler, his imag­i­nary friend who ma­te­ri­alises in full re­galia at var­i­ous times.

Com­i­cal char­ac­ters punc­tu­ate the story. These in­clude Sam Rock­well, as Cap­tain Klen­zen­dorf, a one-eyed army of­fi­cer who runs the Hitler Youth camp, Jojo’s cor­pu­lent lit­tle friend, Yorki (Archie Yates), a be­spec­ta­cled knowit-all, Rebel Wil­son, as Fräulein Rahm, a brutish in­struc­tor in the Hitler Youth camp, and the elon­gated Stephen Mer­chant, as a Gestapo agent.

The per­for­mances are all pow­er­fully ren­dered, es­pe­cially from the young Ro­man Grif­fin Davis, us­ing his wide-eyed ex­pres­sions to great ef­fect and show­ing an act­ing ma­tu­rity far be­yond his years.

Over­all, its anti-war mes­sage is clearly con­veyed, even though there are mo­ments when the film is un­com­fort­ably amus­ing and un­apolo­get­i­cally in­sen­si­tive to the hor­rors of war.

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