***** / A+
Let me get this straight out: Jojo Rabbit is a sharp masterpiece of satire, hiding its mastery in the appearance of some disneyfied, Wes Andersoniac comercial flick. To understand why this, is so mastery we have to remind ourselves of one of the basic of communications: the coding of the message has to be completely understandable to reach the broader audience possible. And this film is NOT trying to be an Oscar winning panflet, but it is trying to wake up its audience about our actual Zeitgeist in 2019 and beyond.
With that in mind, the first master stroke by Waititi comes in the opening… cool titles with a german version of The Beatles “I want to hold your hand” underlines this movie is not talking only a story set in the 40s nazi Germany, but wants its audience to relate and also to notice that this is a mirror into which we must look to ourselves… Waititi describes nazi Germany as a nation infatuated by the spell of an iconic Adolf Hitler, a leader that used a hate speech to arrive to power, helped by a huge marketing campaign, and that would be today having paralels like Trump or the Brexit (even if sharper minds would also recognise the mechanisms on the idolization of Obama or the Clintons in the USA or Putin in Russia or so many others… the need of an all powerful, charismatic leader that would get away with anything, with people never realizing what they are doing at their backs or even in plain daylight, but sold as “necessary”). Remember that Waititi is not American, but from New Zealand, which has a broader political system that bipartidism. He introduces right away Jojo as this 10 years old kid, who has idealized Hitler so much (with posters at the walls of his room everywhere) that has reached the point of going the extra mile and have Hitler as his imaginary friend, offering him advice and being the avatar of the propaganda that brainwashed Germany for over 10 years, impossible to resist for most, specially the younger minds. It was cool to be in the Hitler Youth… with a great montage, Waititi presents to us the glamourized version through the eyes of a 10 years old child of what that meant… a military training and brainwash that was appealing and exciting, because it was telling children, they were men (and women… but women were destined to be servants and breeding devices, as Rebel Wilson’s character proudly points out, telling us she is probably the most fanatic character on screen, along with the Gestapo bunch leaded by Stephen Merchant).
Waititi walks the tightrope between comedy and subtlely reminding us the horror behind that, specially with Sam Rockwell and Alfie Alden’s characters. We think, as they are on the lead of the Hitler Youth program, they are going to be as fanatic as Wilson’s. Big mistake… Waititi humanizes them immediately (he actually does this with EVERY character no matter how fanatic they may be, he reminds us that these monsters were humans, able to sincerely laugh or appreciate beauty or an achievement, even the Gestapo ones, completely in delight when they see Jojo’s überfanatism in his room and with the book… they change their intimidating attitude inmediately, and only a few minutes after, you discover that it wasn’t a random check but they already had captured Jojo’s mother, probably tortured and even hang her… which makes Jojo’s appreciation even more twisted and heartbreaking the second time you will see the film.
Because of that, Waititi has one of this really important messages in the film… GERMANS WERE HUMAN AND NOT EVERYONE WAS A FANATIC. Actually most were not, but just too scared to do anything, in the reigns of terror and paranoia. Jojo’s family has suffered and would througout the film, but Rosie’s attitude, despite losing her daughter, and probably her husband, and having to face the horror of her only son becoming a fanatic is to love, to dance out fears, to enjoy and embrace every moment of life, and to do her little she can, at the risk of her life… helping a jewish teenager to survive, spreading little pieces of paper to remind people there is hope and they have to wake up… she is a heroine, as millions of germans were, so many of them paying with their lives the fight for their future. It is important also that Rockell’s Lt is clearly shown to be gay, and that Finkel is his partner. Some would say that it was not done in a subtle way, but I think it is important to underline so many people HAD to join the nazi party to defend themselves from accusations (more on this, if you rewatch the wonderful Swing Kids, a totally underrated film). At the end of the film, Captain Kienzendorf has his moment of glory and redemption by first leading an attack again, then saving Jojo from death. What could we say about Yorki? Yorki, like Jojo, is the inocence of Germany being swept away. We want Yorki to survive, and he does… or does him? When I ended the film, I had serious doubts if Yorki DID survive, or replaced Hitler as Jojo’s new imaginary friend… I tend to think he survived, and that Jojo substitutes his imaginary friendship, with a real friendship with Elsa.
Waititi has made a brilliant, vibrant masterpiece. In less capable hands, the scene when Jojo discover his mother has died would have drowned into an out of tone melodrama, and the movie would have become bleaker than it actually is. Jojo wakes up from his fantasy, but not inmediately. He becomes lost, clueless, even lies to Elsa about the liberation in a desperate attempt to keep things as normal as possible and refusing to face the death of his mother, and Elsa leaving free, so he would become completely alone. That Elsa merely slaps his face, he replies “I probably deserved that”, and they start dancing with a german version of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, is probably one of the most beautiful, haunting, infectious endings I could think of… all in once.
Jojo Rabbit is a masterpiece. And the one we NEED, right now. While if I was going to say which one is the best film of 2019, I would probably go for 1917, Jojo is a close, so close 2nd, and the one that I think should win the Oscar, so as many people as possible decides to check it out… and with a bit of luck, learn something about themselves, before is too late.