London Film Festival 2019: Jojo Rabbit

Rating: ★★★★★

The premise of Jojo Rabbit is a bold one, and something that could have very easily been executed terribly on-screen.

Whilst you might feel some apprehension about the concept of a 10-year-old boy who has Hitler as an imaginary friend, Taika Waititi has turned it into something brilliant and poignant.

As mentioned above, the film follows Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler, who lives in Nazi Germany. He’s a fanatic and is driven by his desire to serve Adolf Hitler in the German army during World War II, even joining a Hitler Youth Camp which is run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell).

Jojo is unlike any other child protagonist I’ve seen, because it’s easy to have very mixed feelings about who he is as a person. He’s a child and his everyday behaviour is indicative of someone who lacks maturity, resulting in some laugh out loud moments.

However, a lot of what he says happens to be horrendous insults towards the Jewish community. He’s fuelled by a love of Hitler (even going as far as to describe him as his ‘best friend’).

Throughout the film, he imagines scenarios in which Hitler is there with him, such as when he’s looking in the mirror and giving himself a pep-talk.

The strength of Jojo Rabbit‘s protagonist is a testament to actor Roman Griffin Davis, and I found it hard to believe that this was his first ever film performance. He’s funny, flawed, and a very well-rounded character brilliantly brought to life.

As for Jojo’s imaginary Hitler, he’s hysterically funny and not at all how you’d imagine the real man to be. Played brilliantly by director Taika Waititi, he is a caricature of a deplorable historical figure, and fuels Jojo’s delusions of how wonderful he is.

He’s simply someone’s interpretation of a political leader, created by a child who has been brainwashed into believing Nazi propaganda by adults in his life.

This bubbly oversimplification of a dictator is what you’d expect from a naive child, who isn’t fully aware of the atrocities around him.

The fact Taika Waititi plays this version of Hitler feels important, because he’s mocking him in the best possible way. As a Jewish man, it feels very appropriate that he criticises Hitler’s ideology through his satirical performance. It was brilliant.

Adding jokes to such a horrific situation is difficult, but this is where Jojo Rabbit really excels. The balance between humour and gut-punching reality checks is beautifully done, and there were times when I wasn’t sure whether my tears were from laughing or because I was genuinely sad at what I’d just seen.

Relationships are an important part of the film, particularly the one between Jojo and his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). However, this becomes strained when he finds out that his mother is hiding a young Jewish woman in their home.

Jojo’s meeting with Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) is central to the story and gives us a real insight into the horrific treatment of Jewish people during this period, and the extreme lengths they’d go to keep themselves safe.

Despite Elsa’s life constantly being in jeopardy, she’s very sassy and gives young Jojo a run for his money once the two meet. The way the two characters bounce off each other is exceptional, and again, you’ll laugh and cry in equal measure.

I was also impressed by some brief appearances in the film such as Rebel Wilson as Fraulein Rahm, who I found hilarious in this film. I must admit I’m not always a fan of her work, but here she really delivered.

Stephen Merchant as Captain Deertz and Archie Yates as young Yorki are also worthy of praise, as every time they were on screen I found them delightful to watch. Much like Roman Griffin Davis, this was Archie’s first film, and he stole the show every time he was in a scene.

Jojo Rabbit is, simply put, political satire at its finest. As a result of this, it’s an emotional rollercoaster and one that I am excited to revisit whenever I get the chance.

It’s darkly funny with an important overall message of confronting ideologies, and I’d urge you to seek it out ASAP.

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