national Arts Festival Banner

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


Are we allowed to laugh at the Nazis? Writer-director Taika Waititi certainly earns brownie points for giving it a go. (Review by Patrick Compton. 7/10)

Charlie Chaplin took the mickey out of Hitler in The Great Dictator; as did Mel (“Springtime for Hitler”) Brooks in his movie, The Producers. And don’t forget that Italian writer-director Roberto Benigni won the best actor Oscar as well as the Best Foreign Language gong for Life is Beautiful in 1999.

None of which evades the fact that if you’re going to satirize the Nazis, or even more dangerously, the Holocaust, you’ve got to get your tone dead right. Even the slightest failure in this area and you’ll be dead meat.

Does Taika Waititi achieve this in his “anti-hate satire” about a 10-year-old Hitler Youth kid who’s “big into swastikas” and has a fantasy friendship with Adolf Hitler? I think he does, though there are a few sticky moments, and the Academy agreed last Sunday when Waititi was awarded the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

An impressive Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo during the last days of the Third Reich as the Russians and Americans approach Berlin. He’s thrilled to earn his spurs as a juvenile warrior at a Hitler Youth summer camp where he communes with his fantasy friend, none other than Adolf Hitler (Waititi plays the role, at least initially, as an amiable fool). An accident with a hand grenade sends Jojo home where his German resistance mother (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden a young Jewish girl (the extraordinary Thomasin McKenzie, so good in her debut movie, Leave No Trace).

The action is always seen from the point of view of Jojo (he gets the derisive “rabbit” surname because he refuses to snap the neck of a bunny to prove his courage) and the tone ranges from farce to straight comedy to a more conventional kind of drama as the film progresses.

It’s inevitable, perhaps, that people are going to differ wildly in their responses to the film and I don’t want to second-guess the reactions of audiences. But the film certainly tries to be playful, satirical and morally well-intentioned.

The performances by Davis, Johansson and McKenzie are top-notch, and they are joined by Archie Yates as Jojo’s pudgy young friend, and Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson as comic-strip Nazis.

There were one or two moments, I felt, when Waititi’s playful approach proved inadequate in the dark face of obvious evil, as when resistance fighters are shown hanging from lampposts and I still have a few reservations about the project which may – or may not – be resolved by further thought.

There’s a nice musical touch with the movie beginning and ending with the German versions of The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand) and David Bowie’s Heroes (Helden) – both performed by the original artists.

Jojo Rabbit is showing at the Gateway Mall. - Patrick Compton