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Taiki Waititi’s latest film ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is an instant World War II classic


When I first saw the trailer for Jojo Rabbit, it instantly got my attention. It was about World War II, the topic that spurred my interest with history when I was in Grade 5, and it was about Nazi Germany, or at least a part of it. It looked like it was going to be a comedy, judging by the scenes spliced into the trailer. I didn’t know then that it was by Taika Waititi, a director who I first heard about from Thor: Ragnarok. And I didn’t know that it was not just going to be a comedy.


Fox Searchlight

At the beginning of the film, which was shown in the Philippines just this month, I had doubts about Jojo Rabbit’s comedic nature because of its opening credits. It was produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the “indie” arm of 21st Century Fox, which is known for titles like The Shape of Water (2017), Birdman (2014), and 12 Years a Slave (2013), to name a few—films that are far from comedies. But then again, Jojo Rabbit is a film by Taika Waititi, a director from New Zealand known for his own brand of funny.

The very first scene of the film proved me wrong. It was funny, hilarious even. The introduction of 10-year-old Hitler-Jugend member Jojo Betzler (played by 12-year-old actor Roman Griffin Davis) and his “friend” Adolf Hitler (played by no less than Taika himself) was enough to settle my doubts. This was going to be a funny film but it wasn’t just going to be any kind of comedy.


Fox Searchlight

Immediately, the film brings the audience into the world of Jojo, accompanied by The Beatles’ “Komm gib mir deine Hand” with scenes from Leni Riefenstahl’s controversial 1935 propaganda docu Triumph of Will—an unusual, somewhat witty choice considering the story’s setting: 1945 Berlin, toward the end of the Second World War. This scene serves to introduce not just the main characters in the film but also its overall treatment of a subject matter that’s always been handled in serious and often somber tones, save perhaps in the 2017 film Der Hauptman (The Captain) by Robert Schwentke, which was an altogether different kind of strange.

You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a 10-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club. —Elsa Korr

In all its playfulness, which really shouldn’t be surprising given how the point of view of the film is from a 10-year-old Hitler “fanatic,” Jojo Rabbit has slices of real life inserted in it. That scene where Jojo follows a blue butterfly toward a shocking, life-changing discovery is so masterfully done that it is almost comparable to the “red dress” scene in Schindler’s List (1993). That moment when Jojo realizes, partly thanks to his friend and fellow Hitler-Jugend member Yorki (played so cutely by Archie Yates), that it’s “definitely not a good time to be a Nazi” painted a an almost perfect picture of what it feels like to a be kid in the middle of war-torn Berlin.


Fox Searchlight

Throughout all the satire, Jojo Rabbit delivers a serious, thought-provoking narrative in a very Taika manner. His portrayal of Hitler that is so-not-Hitler is accurate in its silliness. Scarlett Johansson as Frau Betzler, Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf (or just Captain K), with Alfie Allen and Rebel Wilson as his funny assistants, together with Thomasin McKenzie in a surprise role and Stephen Merchant as a tall—really tall!—Gestapo officer complete the cast of Jojo Rabbit, adding a mix of serious and silly into the story. Although not everyone will agree, I think Jojo Rabbit is an instant classic. It is able to navigate through a complex and controversial episode in human history, treating it with a refreshing kind of irreverence, sure, but also with the kind of respect that only someone like Taika can put in a film.

Jojo Rabbit was loosely based on a book called Caging Skies by Christine Leunëns.

Source: Manila Bulletin

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