January 05, 2020
Taika Waititi follows a distinguished tradition with this ‘strange art comedy’ about a boy growing up in Nazi Germany, but fails to cut to the dark heart of the matter
Jojo Rabbit review – down the rabbit hole with Hitler
Since the days of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, film-makers have adopted naive or comedic perspectives to pierce and deflate the hideous bubble of Nazi ideology – a risky strategy that can reap rich rewards. In the 1967 classic The Producers, Mel Brooks made comedy gold from the spectre of a terrible play celebrating Hitler’s little-known dance skills. The film won a best screenplay Oscar and spawned a hit stage musical that in turn produced another star-studded screen adaptation. In 1999, Roberto Benigni’s “comedy drama” Life Is Beautiful won three Oscars with its depiction of a man whose comic clowning keeps the horrors of a concentration camp from his son – a premise weirdly reminiscent of Jerry Lewis’s ill-judged The Day the Clown Cried, which was effectively banned by its creator, becoming the subject of ignominious legend.
Now, in this Golden Globe-nominated adaptation of Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies, New Zealand writer-director-performer Taika Waititi plays a camp, slapstick version of Hitler, who exists in the mind of a German boy, Jojo. Roman Griffin Davis plays the 10-year-old growing up under the Third Reich, whose jolly dreams of becoming an Aryan war hero are thwarted by his innate sensitivity and squeamishness. Nicknamed Jojo Rabbit after failing to strangle a bunny when ordered to do so at a Nazi youth training camp, our antihero promptly blows himself up with a hand grenade, rendering him unfit for future combat. Instead, he’s assigned more menial tasks, including handing out recruitment leaflets, spurred on by visions of his imaginary Führer friend.
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