A dark, satirical comedy
HIGH POINTS: WAR THROUGH THE INNOCENT EYES OF A 10-YEAR-OLD
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.