TIFF 2019: Jojo Rabbit
Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi returns with a Nazi satire that proves a great vehicle for his brand of oddball humour
New Zealand filmmaker and comedian Taika Waititi has a knack for getting genuinely funny performances from child actors and with his latest film, Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit, he succeeds once again. Roman Griffin Davis is brilliant as the young Jojo Betzler, a Hitler Youth fanatic meets Moonrise Kingdom scout with the Führer himself (caricatured by Waititi) for an imaginary friend. Jojo’s beliefs and his understanding of the world are thrown into disarray when he discovers his mother (a playfully good Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
This sensitive subject is given the full Waititi treatment, with the Kiwi filmmaker as concerned with highlighting how ridiculous Hitler’s regime was, as well as how dangerous. It's a great vehicle for his brand of oddball Kiwi comedy, and the film is peppered with silliness and sweetly funny moments deployed with perfect timing by Davis as he navigates his own emotional growth. Jojo Rabbit is more lightly humourous and breezier than some of the darker laughs of Waititi’s previous work, but his directorial hand is always kind, making us laugh with, not at, his tender and sincere characters.
It’s precarious ground to tread but Waititi balances the film well. Jojo is a boy who earns his titular nickname because of his softness: he tries to let a rabbit escape, instead of break its neck as he’s asked to; he experiences butterflies in his stomach for the first time; the best insult he can come up with is “you’re as weak as an eyelash”. His fanaticism is a product of his environment outside the home, learned wrongs but not an innate evil. The director’s spirited approach sensitively shows this world through the eyes of a child who faces the realisation that the imaginary, the ideological, cannot and should not last.
Jojo Rabbit had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival and is released 1 Jan 2020 by Fox Searchlight