Sunday, February 02, 2020

JoJo Rabbit – deftly delivering what at first felt like a distasteful tale

Young Johannes’ imaginary friend is a maniacal yet somewhat beguiling Adolf Hitler with a dodgy moustache who offers encouragement when the lad’s experience of Hitler Youth training camp turns sour.

Based on Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies, the premise of JoJo Rabbit at first seemed distasteful. Yet soon the empathetic ten-year-old boy won me over as he reacts to a series of encounters with a teenage Jewish girl and a forbidden friendship is klindled.

Roman Griffin Davis plays the young boy who slowly begins to question his grasp of the Führer’s ideology.

Taika Waititi throws a bit of The Joker into his Hitler pastiche, while Scarlett Johansson plays Johannes’ secretive mother.

But it is the performance of Thomasin McKenzie, exuding warmth, fear and eventually bravado as Elsa Korr that becomes the lynchpin of the film’s success.

The poetry of Rilke adds substance to the film whose mood swings like a pendulum from ridiculous (and ridiculing) comedy caper to deathly sombre and back over the 108 minutes. Hitler constantly offers Johannes cigarettes (which he refuses) as if this is the worst action the Nazi leader will take.

Yet just in time the final scene removes any lingering doubt that JoJo Rabbit wasn’t going to turn out a good film. It certainly doesn’t break new ground or merit Academy Awards, but it’s serviceable and thoughtful.

JoJo Rabbit is still playing at Belfast Odeon and some Movie House cinemas.

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