Six Oscar nominee, Jojo Rabbit is a dramatic comedy loosely based on the novel Caging Skies di Christine Leunens. Characterized by an abundant dose of black humor, the film initially divided the opinions of the public for its controversial approach to the delicate theme of the Holocaust, to then win the hearts of (almost) everyone and leave us with a question: there was really a need to laugh at Hitler, in this moment? Let's find out together!
SPOILER ALERT: in the review DON'T you will run into plot spoilers (unless you go to open the appropriate curtains), as long as you do not consider this to find out who won the Second World War.
We are in Nazi Germany in 1945 and Johannes "Jojo" Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a shy ten year old boy who lives with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), in a large empty house. The father, in fact, left for the war (he is supposed to be stationed in Italy but has not given his news for some time) while his sister Inge died of an illness. To support Jojo in the small daily battles, fortunately, there is his funny imaginary friend and absolute idol: Adolf Hitler.
Together with his little friend Yorki (Archie yates), Jojo participates in the training of the Deutsches Jungvolk, a group of the Nazi youth managed by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) with his deputy Fred Finkel (Alfie Allen) and Fraulien Rahm (Rebel Wilson). Because of his shy and fearful character, the young protagonist ends up being the object of ridicule by his companions, who nickname him "Jojo rabbit".
In an attempt to show his courage, Jojo is wounded in the explosion of a grenade and, once he leaves the hospital, is released from service and sent home with a battered leg and his face crossed by deep scars. Following the intervention of the mother, who tells the Captain to find something that makes him feel included, Jojo is instructed to post flyers and collect waste. Being alone in the house, one day he hears noises coming from upstairs and discovers Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl who lives hidden in the cavity of a wall.
And it is from here that the story becomes interesting, in a very close intertwining between the prejudices instilled by the regime and the genuine curiosity of a boy, all accompanied by a satire that dismantles the language of hatred with strokes of smiles.
PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION
Taika Waititi - known to the general public for directing Thor: Ragnarok (2017), an episode of Mandalorian and appreciated mockumentary Vampire Life: What We Do in the Shadows (2014) - in addition to interpreting an almost cartoonic version of the Leader, he also directed, scripted and co-produced Jojo Rabbit. In short, we just needed to take care of bringing the coffees and donuts to the set!
Such a transversal involvement could make us fear an approximate result (just think of the massacre of Adrian) but this is certainly not the case. Furthermore, the director is certainly not at the first appearance in one of his films: we can find him literally in every feature film he has directed so far, without exclusions. Finally, it should be noted that he also dealt with all the screenplays (except that of the blockbuster Marvel) and a good half of the productions.
After the presentation at the 44th Toronto Film Festival in early September, the distribution of the film started on tiptoe, limiting itself to a few selected cinemas in mid-October and arriving in the whole USA only on November 8th. Three months after its American release, Jojo Rabbit finally landed in Italy on January 16.
DIFFERENCES WITH THE BOOK
As for the script, the film is inspired by the novel Caging Skies (2004) of Christine Leunens, released in Italy in 2008 with the title Like Autumn Seeds (mentioned in the film) and returned to bookstores last year as Heaven in a Cage.
It must be said that the film adaptation differs a lot from the book, for example preferring to portray Jojo as a ten year old German child instead of a seventeen year old in Nazi Austria in 1943. Another important difference is that the Jojo teenager, in the novel, actually go to fight at the front and return to Vienna only after a war wound, complete with a partial amputation of a limb and facial paralysis, to find out that his parents (both present) have hidden a Jewish girl in the attic of the house without the knowledge of the elderly grandmother. Needless to say, finally, that there is no trace of Hitler among the characters, neither as an imaginary friend nor in flesh and hate.
Spoiler sul libro
The ending of the book is very different and much more bitter than the one chosen by Waititi to conclude the film: Jojo, in fact, makes Elsa believe that the war was won by Germany and actually forces her to remain prisoner inside of the House. This, however, occurs halfway through the novel and their life as a couple continues for four years after the end of the war between a thousand difficulties, quarrels, a move and the defenestration of a cat. It will be only thanks to the suspicions of the neighbors that Elsa, during the umpteenth discussion, will be able to find out the truth and to go away, leaving Jojo in the company of her obsession for her.
Jojo Rabbit he was nominated for six Academy Awards (best film, supporting actress, non-original screenplay, set design, editing and costumes), two Golden Globes and six BAFTAs.
Overall, it has completed 46 applications and, so far, has brought home seven awards:
- Best international screenplay (AACTA Award) to Taika Waititi
- Best Non-Original Screenplay (Hollywood Critics Association Awards) to Taika Waititi
- Best editor in a comedy or musical film (American Cinema Editors) to Tom Eagles
- Costume excellence for a historical film (Costume Designers Guild Award) to Mayes C. Rubeo
- Best young actor (Critics' Choice Movie Awards) to Roman Griffin Davis
- Best photography (Hollywood Film Awards) to Mihai Mălaimare Jr.
- Best scenography (Hollywood Film Awards) to Ra Vincent
(This list will be updated as prizes pending today are awarded.)
A separate article would be needed to list in detail all the strengths of Jojo Rabbit because I find there are so many, to the point of considering it one of the most interesting films I have seen in recent years.
First of all, the synergy between direction and editing (also sound) is really effective, with a game of slow motion which underlines the dramatic moments but, at the same time, breaks the tension and does not weigh down the hearts of the spectators too much.
With regard to music that are the background of the film, original songs written by Michael Giacchino alternate with German versions of classics such as I Want to Hold Your Hand Beatles o Heroes by David Bowie, completing the atmosphere flawlessly.
Then it is impossible not to appreciate the performances of the actors among which those of Scarlett Johansson (nominated for the Oscar for best supporting actress), of Roman Griffin Davis (winner of the Critics' Choice Movie Award for best young actor) and of the same stand out Taika Waititi, whose character is vital for the development of the plot.
As Jojo matures his own personal vision of the regime, in fact, his projection of Hitler changes and gives him resistance, probably to indicate the boy's internal conflict, in a limbo between what he has been taught and what he is experiencing in first person. We must think that Jojo was born and raised in a society steeped in Nazi ideals, with the belief that Jews have horns and can manipulate the minds of the defenseless Arians. This, inevitably, leads to a collapse of his certainties where he finds himself clashing with a reality very different from what he imagined.
Finding flaws in this film, in my entirely questionable opinion, is really complex. From a technical point of view everything goes smoothly and even the music, which initially seems almost out of place and anachronistic, ends up intersecting the plot as if they were pieces of a bittersweet puzzle. Although songs published after 1945 have been included, in fact, the choice to use the original versions of the songs (ie those remade by the artists themselves for the German market) is effective.
To want to be picky, Waititi's interpretation loses slightly intensity in the dubbed version in Italian and it would have been interesting to have some more details on some events in the story that are not very developed but, in this case, it's up to you to choose whether to open or not the spoiler curtain.
Rosie's involvement in the Resistance, for example, is a topic that ends up being barely mentioned, although it leads to fatal consequences. In the light of a film focused on Jojo, however, it is understandable to have dedicated little space to collateral stories that would have weighed everything down. What is unclear, however, is how Jojo managed to survive the mother while maintaining full freedom of movement and home management. We can assume that he was helped by Captain Klenzendorf, who had already turned a blind eye (pun unintended) on the wrong date of birth by Elsa during the inspection of the Gestapo.
WELCOME AND CONCLUSIONS
At first, the film was warmly received by critics due to the important issue and the fear that it had not been treated with due diligence. Waititi, on the other hand, proves to be the right person to carry out such an ambitious project: New Zealand by birth, the director has a Maori father and signed his first works as Taika Cohen, using his mother's maiden name, of Jewish origin . The mere fact of finding ourselves in front of a Führer that is anything but Caucasian is a twist interesting and should be sufficient to silence the controversies that consider the choice to make such a film disrespectful or risky.
It is good to remember that Jojo Rabbit does not come out of nowhere and is not, in itself, revolutionary: this film is part of a long tradition of works that made Hitler's ridicule his centerpiece, already during the regime, two above all The Great Dictator(1940) by Charlie Chaplin e We want to live!(1942) by Ernst Lubitsch.
So why did you feel the need to bring something similar in theaters right now? Perhaps the motivation is to be found precisely in the flourishing of intolerant ideas and attitudes, also reflected in the votes taken in recent years by racist nationalist parties.
The film itself met with a lot of resistance from the production companies, just think that the script was ready already in 2011 but it took six years for someone to take responsibility for considering and financing it. Is it also because these issues are scary, where there is real feedback in everyday life or has the fear of not being able to bring the spectators into the theater prevailed?
In conclusion, Jojo Rabbit it has everything you could wish for: it is fun, dramatic, moving, multifaceted and extremely powerful in making a sharp criticism of the ideology of hatred. At a time like this, perhaps, there really was a need to reiterate the concept.