TIFF19 Review ‘Jojo Rabbit’

Jojo Rabbit is a satirical black comedy film directed by Taika Watiti. It also signals his return to the writer’s desk since helming 2017’s Thor Ragnarok. This is a film particularly relevant to Toronto as it picked up the People’s Choice Award at TIFF earlier this year. Jojo portrays the life of a 10 year-old-boy living in Nazi Germany during the end of World War 2. The film adds a wrench to that formula by having Watiti play the boy’s best friend: Adolf Hitler.

The film starts with Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) attending a local Nazi youth camp, where we quickly learn that his best friend- Adolf- is actually imaginary. Things get complicated when he gets sent home from camp to discover a teenage Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) living in the house’s hidden attic. He doesn’t denounce her to protect his mother, despite the learned antisemitism of his indoctrination. His hate soon turns to affection as he discovers that she isn’t the scaly, horned demon the Nazi camp said she would be. Meanwhile audiences are presented with the boy’s dramatic dilemmas with the wacky, over-the-top version of the Fuhrer that exists only in his head.

The setting and cinematography are very reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012). The other similarity to that film is that Jojo features an absolutely star-studded cast: Scarlett Johansson as the boy’s mother, Sam Rockwell as the Nazi Captain in charge of the Hitler Youth camp and even Game of Throne’s Alfie Allen is there for the roll call. The film handles the heavy subject matter by always presenting itself through the lens of a creative 10-year-old’s view of the world. Taika Watiti uses this as an opportunity to present a boy conflicted by his caring, peaceful nature and his blind fanaticism to the Third Reich’s propaganda. Watiti’s performance as Herr Hitler is absolutely electric– and a reason to see the film all on its’ own.

While the movie’s themes and tone aren’t wholly unthreaded ground (see 1998’s Life is Beautiful). It has probably never been presented as such a vivid feast for the eyes. The score is fantastic and features musical moments  that are too good to spoil. Jojo Rabbit is a brilliant and important comedy that respects the weight of its’ subject matter.

Fox Searchlight releases Jojo Rabbit in theatres on Friday, October 25, 2019

[Review by Nico Blier]

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