Sunday, November 17, 2019
Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Luenens, Jojo Rabbit is the story of a young German boy who joins the Hitler Youth camp during the waning years of World War II as he learns his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Written for the screen, directed, and co-starring Taika Waititi as Adolf Hitler, the film is a satirical comedy about a boy who has Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend as he struggles with his ideals upon learning what his mother is hiding while trying to understand the realities of war and tolerance. Also starring Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Archie Yates, and Stephen Merchant. Jojo Rabbit is a witty yet rapturous film from Taika Waititi.
Set during the final months of World War II in a small German village, the film revolves around a boy who is a Nazi fanatic as he spends time at home following an accident in camp where he learns that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. It’s a film that is a coming-of-age story for this 10 year old boy who had just lost his older sister to influenza and his father was last to be heard fighting in Italy where he copes with not just all of the things he has been taught but also becoming conflicted with what he’s discovered knowing that his mother would be in big trouble. Taika Waititi’s screenplay does follow a straightforward narrative yet it’s more of a study of a boy coming to terms with this rhetoric of hate, race-purity, and all of these things that Adolf Hitler is spouting. The protagonist Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is someone that grew up on Nazi propaganda as he is convinced his father is still alive and fighting for the Nazis while is eager to fit in by joining the Hitler Youth camp.
Jojo doesn’t just cope with the rhetoric of the Nazis with a buffoonish version of Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend but also the realization that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish teenage girl in Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) who was a classmate of Jojo’s sister. Rosie has a different view on the world that is more hopeful as she sees taking Elsa into her home just to save someone’s life. Jojo also befriends Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) who was a Wehrmacht official that would run the Hitler Youth camp where Jojo had an accident as he gets demoted to run the town’s Nazi headquarters as he is a unique character as someone that is becoming disillusioned while starts to care about Jojo as he feels that Jojo should just be a kid and not a Nazi. Once Jojo gets to know Elsa, he realizes that Jews aren’t as different as Germans as his friendship with Hitler starts to become more troubling.
Waititi’s direction does bear elements of style yet it his approach to humor and drama that really sticks out during the course of the film. Shot on various locations in the Czech Republic including areas near Prague, the film does recreate mid-1940s Nazi Germany at a time when the war is in the favor of the Allies instead of Nazi Germany but many of its locals aren’t aware or don’t want to know. Waititi creates an opening credits sequence that play into Jojo’s fascination with Hitler as this messianic figure with the Beatles’ Komm, gib mir deine Hand playing in the background that recall similarities to craziness of Beatlemania in the 1960s with an array of stock footage including propaganda films by Leni Riefenstahl. Much of Waititi’s approach to compositions are straightforward in the way he presents Jojo’s fascination with the world as well as his encounters with Nazi officials and Elsa. Waititi’s usage of the wide shots do play into this disconnect between Jojo’s idea of what Elsa and who Elsa really is as they would eventually closer as does the framing device in Waititi’s direction.
Waititi’s direction also emphasizes on this air of drama and tragedy into the events that would change Jojo’s view on the world where Waititi is more about what he doesn’t show than what would be shown. Notably as it play into some of the cruelty of reality that Jojo is unaware of that Hitler is trying to shield him from. Especially as he wants Jojo to stay on this course of hateful rhetoric as his character would progress from being silly to darkly comical towards its third act. Even as Jojo becomes aware of the reality where he starts to care for Elsa and wants nothing bad happen to her as even his friend Yorkie (Archie Yates) starts to be aware of the realities of what is going on. There is also this air of surreal and darkly comic imagery and situations that occur in its climax that involve children carrying grenades and young girls with machine guns as it does play into the many fallacies of war. Especially in the eyes of a 10-year old boy who realizes that there is so much the world has to offer than the stupid ideas of hate from a buffoonish dictator. Overall, Waititi crafts a touching and exhilarating film about a German boy’s journey to discover a world that isn’t filled with fanaticism and ideas of hate.
Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. does amazing work with the film’s cinematography as it features an array of lush colors for many of the daytime exterior locations as well as the emphasis on natural lighting for some of the interior scenes and low-key usage of lighting for scenes at night. Editor Tom Eagles does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump-cuts and rhythmic cuts to play into some of the film’s humor as well as some of the dramatic moments in the film. Production designer Ra Vincent, with set decorator Nora Sopkova plus art directors Radek Hanak and Ondrej Lipensky, does excellent work with the look of the home that Jojo and Rosie live in as well as the Nazi headquarters that Captain Klenzendorf works at. Costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo does fantastic work with the costumes in the design of the Nazi uniforms as well as the clothes that Rosie wears including her shoes and a robot cardboard costume that Jojo wears during one of his volunteer assignments.
Hair/makeup designer Danielle Satherley does terrific work with the look of Hitler as well as Captain Klenzendorf with his one eye. Visual effects supervisor Jason Chen does nice work with some of the visual effects as it is largely minimal for a few things that Jojo sees including a shot of how he feels about Elsa. Sound designers Ai-Ling Lee and Tobias Poppe do superb work with the sound as it capture the array of how bombs, grenades, and machine guns sound as well as the atmosphere of war and quieter scenes in the film. The film’s music by Michael Giacchino is incredible for its usage of strings and percussions that include military march pieces as well as some somber moments that play into the drama. The film’s music soundtrack features a diverse array of music that include music pieces that was played in those times like Johann Strauss, the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra with Roger Wagner Corale, Ella Fitzgerald with the Chick Webb Orchestra, Lecuona Cuban Boys, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra as well as anachronistic music pieces by Tom Waits, Roy Orbison, Love, and two well-known rock songs in German by the Beatles and David Bowie.
The casting by Des Hamilton and Maya Kvetny is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Luke Brandon Field and Sam Haygarth as a couple Hitler Youth camp counselors bullying Jojo, Gilby and Hardy Griffin Davis as a couple of young clones, and the quartet of Joe Weintraub, Brian Caspe, Gabriel Andrews, and Billy Rayner as members of the Gestapo. Archie Yates is terrific as Jojo’s best friend Yorkie as a young kid who joins the Hitler Youth camp as he makes some funny comments while being a completely innocent child that starts to realize not everything about being a Nazi feels right. Alfie Allen is superb as Captain Klenzendorf’s second-in-command Finkel who helps out with tasks while being aware that Germany is losing the war. Rebel Wilson is fantastic as Fraulein Rahm as a Hitler Youth instructor who believes blindly in what Hitler does while saying some of the dumbest things out there.
Stephen Merchant is excellent as the Gestapo agent Deertz as a man trying to find Jews as he also admires Jojo’s bedroom. Sam Rockwell is brilliant as Captain Klenzendorf as a once-revered captain who has become disillusioned by the war as he agrees to run the Hitler Youth camp only for an incident to go wrong where he tries to mount a strategy for what is to come while trying to be a good person to those around him including Jojo whom he cares about. Taika Waititi is amazing as Adolf Hitler as this buffoonish version of the Nazi Germany leader who encourages Jojo to do silly things in the name of Nazi Germany while becoming frustrated about his growing friendship with Elsa.
Scarlett Johansson is remarkable as Rosie Betzler as Jojo’s mother who is the opposite of everything Hitler is about as Johansson displays some wit and charm into her role but also a warmth that is touching as it is one of her finest performances to date. Thomasin McKenzie is incredible as Elsa Korr as a teenage Jewish girl hiding in an attic as she was a classmate of Jojo’s late sister as she deals with her situation while befriending Jojo despite his Nazi fanaticism. Finally, there’s Roman Griffin Davis in a marvelous performance as Johannes “Jojo” Betzler as 10-year old boy trying to do his part for Nazi Germany and Hitler as he later contends with his mother’s secret as well as the realities of the world as it has elements of humor but also an anguish into what he would deal with as it is a major highlight of the film.
Jojo Rabbit is a tremendous film from Taika Waititi that features phenomenal performances from Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, and Sam Rockwell. Along with Michael Giacchino’s offbeat music score, themes of fanaticism, war, and hope, dazzling visuals, and a great mixture of humor and drama. The film is definitely a touching and satirical film that explores the fallacies of hate and war while it is seen in the eyes of a child who would befriend a Jewish girl who helps him realize that love and kindness are the keys to life. In the end, Jojo Rabbit is a spectacular film from Taika Waititi.
Taika Waititi Films: Two Cars, One Night - Eagle vs. Shark - Boy (2010 film) - What We Do in the Shadows - Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor: Ragnarok - Thor: Love and Thunder - (Next Goal Wins) - The Auteurs #64: Taika Waititi
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