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The Hitler comedy Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi needs much more Hitler

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our breakdown-like reviews of festival films, VR previews and other special events. This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival 2019.

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It is not impossible to make a comedy about Adolf Hitler. Mel Brooks got a stomachache from satirizing the German dictator in his 1967 film The producersand even during the war itself, Hollywood mocked Hitler with films such as the Three Stooges comedy You Nazty Spy! The Oscar winner from Roberto Benigni from 1997 Life is Beautiful was divided, but successful – partly because airy playfulness was such an unusual choice in a concentration camp story.

And many things about Hitler himself are ripe for humor: his weird little brush mustache; his obsession with a tall, blond, & # 39; pure & # 39; Aryan physical ideal when he himself was dark-haired and diminutive; the elaborate clips of his intense, barking speeches. (Ten years ago hundreds of people reused a clip of actor Bruno Ganz as Hitler in the film Downfall in a endless hilarious meme for all purposes.) Every traumatic subject is guaranteed to be a rich vein for dark humor and subversive jokes, because people so often process sadness by laughing.

Yet, it is hard to turn Hitler into a cartoon character because he is transported with so much emotional baggage – especially in the film, where every attempt at funny Hitler images is pre-contextualized by hundreds of deeply emotional films about its effects on millions of lives , from soldiers and victims of concentration camps to the civilians trying to become under occupation or the breakup of their homeland. So the drama from the Second World War by Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit, who again presents Hitler as the goofy imaginary friend of a bullied 10-year-old German boy, starts with a large mound of skepticism and resistance to it. However, in the beginning Waititi manages to keep the tone light and the humor surreal enough to prevent too much association with the real world. But while his story turns into a melodrama, the comedy curls.

What is the genre?

Drama from the Second World War, based on the 2008 novel by Christine Leunens Caging Skies. The crazy opening act feels like the kind of straightforward absurdism that Waititi developed in projects such as the improv vampire comedy What we do in the shade and the unexpected family comedy Hunt For The Wilderpeople. He brings the same kind of deadpan looseness in the character interactions that he brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Thor: Ragnarok. But then the film goes straight into the conventional drama territory in World War II and becomes a much more famous film – a sentimental prestige drama.

What is it about?

Roman Griffin Davis shines like Johannes & # 39; Jojo & # 39; Betzler, a little 10-year-old German boy who idolized Hitler so much that he introduced the dictator (played by Waititi himself) as an ever-present mentor, friend and squad of one-man cheering man. Their pretend forms of friendship arise during the declining days of the Second World War. The more cynical adults in Jojo's life are well aware that Germany is losing and the country's future prospects are gloomy, but Imaginary Hitler is still excited and cheerful, and Jojo is completely committed to the Nazi cause .

And that also applies to his colleagues, the dozens of prepubescent children in a training camp where they learn skills such as the use of grenades and the burning of books. (Or for the girls, "how to get pregnant" to produce the next wave of German soldiers.) Jojo eagerly swallows the propaganda he has received from figures like one-eyed veteran Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and freestanding matron Fräulein Rahm ( Rebel Wilson), and he goes home every day to theorize about his chances of killing or catching a Jew himself.

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Then he discovers that his beloved mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish refugee, Elsa (striking Leaves no trace Thomasin McKenzie), in the walls of their house. His first impulse is to report Elsa, but it is clear that his mother would be executed, and Elsa threatens to involve him. Instead, he decides that he can justify her presence if he learns from her about Jews to write a guide for German citizens. Inevitably he comes to see her humanity while they interact. Imaginary Hitler of course rejects.

What is it really about?

The great stupidity of fascism, propaganda, racism and prejudice in general. In the early segments of the film that are more focused on comedy, Jojo eagerly devours information about how Jews are horned, serpentine devil monsters. This naturally leads him to expect dangers from Elsa that do not occur. (In some of the more subtle humor of the film, it actually makes him much less able to get along with her because he is so scared of her.) While getting to know her, he clearly learns that she is also a person.

Is it good?

There are so many difficult broken connections in it Jojo Rabbit, and the "Get to know Elsa" aspect of the story is great. Jojo gradually learns that Elsa is not a monster, but he never wonders why he was taught that she was, or who would benefit from creating that gap between them. Their story remains superficial, superficial and sentimental, with the most attention for Jojo's coming-of-age story. His preference for Elsa's might be nicer if he didn't have that much power over her, from navigating her constant survival to controlling the information she gets. When he writes her fake self-serving letters, supposedly from her fiancé, it is ridiculous because his jealousy and attempts to disrupt their relationship are so transparent and childish. But it is also frightening, because even at the age of 10 he tries to control her love life and put herself in it.

Jojo Rabbit has been compared to that of Wes Anderson Moonrise Kingdom, because of the romance from childhood and the focus on an unconventional, comical precocious exploration camp. But the dynamics here are not nearly as expensive: it is a one-way romanticism in which a boy who is not entirely sure whether his beloved object is human (or whether he sees her as a replacement for his deceased sister) looks like a girl who thinks more about the death of her family than about the weird child who keeps grilling her about whether Jews sleep on ceilings, such as bats. It is a little disappointing that Jojo has only two possible ways to interpret Elsa: as a threat that must be eliminated, or as a friend to be claimed.

It is just as disappointing that the film is so much more interested in its perspective and experience than hers, even though it is going through a much more difficult journey. Some of the most compelling scenes from the film come when Rosie and Elsa steal a few moments for a conversation when Jojo is not there. At those moments the film seems more sincere than calculated.

But the focus is so firmly on Jojo because his Hitler fanboy is the only thing that is breaking up Jojo Rabbit of other straight dramas that have mined exactly the same emotional dynamic, such as The Book Thief or The boy in the striped pajamas. Waititi does not get enough screen time as Hitler, which he plays as a sleepy, exaggerated pile of uncertainties. (When Jojo & # 39; s Nazi decision is marking, Hitler begins to beg a greeting: "Hail me? Hail me? Hail me!") He is the thoroughly ridiculous element that turns the film into a makes fantasy and his foolish relationship with Jojo is more compelling than Jojo & # 39; budding affection for Elsa.

The sick humor about Elsa and Nazi propaganda causes a lot of uncomfortable laughter, partly because it is so discordant and unexpected, and because Jojo is so desperately ignorant. Early on, he seriously demanded that Elsa draw him a card to "where the Queen Jew lays her eggs." And it's also funny because Waititi's distinctive brand of New Zealand humor is so sincere and absurd: when Elsa impatiently tells Jojo that it doesn't matter how he identifies with Nazis, he's not one, he answers: "Um, I am massive in swastikas, which is a pretty good sign. & # 39;

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Such as Ricky Baker, the main character of Waititi Hunting the Wilderpeople, Jojo considers himself dangerous and important because he identifies closely with more powerful people. (For Ricky, it's Tupac Shakur and & # 39; skux life & # 39 ;.) And like in Hunting the Wilderpeople, there was laughter in the gap between Jojo's self-image and reality, which has another characteristic Waititi character: an awkward outsider who tries to place himself in a world that looks down on him. Jojo Rabbit could use more of that dynamic, and more of Waititi's subversive voice and willingness to raise cinematic standards. His strengths as a director lie in his willingness and ability to do unknown things, whether that brings improvisation to the MCU or whiny comedy Hitler. Jojo Rabbit founders when it stops being weird and daring and instead tries to be sweet and serious.

What should it be assessed?

There is a bit of comic violence and a possible traumatic war action, but when war dramas go, it is pretty tame in terms of screen trauma. The PG-13 that he received from the MPAA seems good.

How can I actually view it?

Jojo Rabbit appears on October 18, 2019 in a broad theatrical edition.