If you’re a fan of Tyke Vaichie Pre-Tor: Ragnarok, then you know very well how the New Zealander’s cinematic style works, how he plays with the comedy genre, adds layers of originality and turns it into fun watches. He lives from satire and doesn’t seem to get tired of it; he even reached the height of his career when one of his creations won several Oscar nominations. But these nominations do not necessarily match the quality Vaititi finds in the concept of Rabbit Jojo, a devastating sound story about the era of a Nazi boy whose logic is complicated by the beliefs of the band he belongs to, in which the experience of being in Germany in the 1940s plays a role at a time when Jews are dying in vain and Hitler’s friends are glorifying violence and power, makes no sense and eventually becomes more conventional and ordinary than the rough and strange feeling that Whiteytie brings to the table again and again.
The film was made after Johannes Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), nicknamed Jojo, who lived in Germany with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) at the height of the Second World War. He and his best friend Yorkie (Archie Yates) go to a youth camp where they learn how to become Nazis by learning robbery techniques, burning books and throwing grenades. Besides his best friend, he also has an imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler himself (Tyka Weiti), who apparently behaves so foolish and childishly that he even offers cigarettes to a ten-year-old child and convinces him to commit an evil act. Jojo is overwhelmed by the desire to join the Third Reich until he meets a Jewish woman, a young girl named Elsa (Thomasin Mackenzie), who hides her mother in her modest home, changes his outlook on life and questions all politics between the two opposition parties and their respective philosophies of life.
Whitey’s intentions are clear from the beginning, from Hitler as an imaginary boyfriend who serves the child’s conscience because of the absence of a father figure (and since he’s just an invention of Joe’s imagination, he knows no more than the boy), until an indoctrinated child finally catches a glimpse of the horrors of Nazi feeling. He points out that the film is a quote from the anti-hate satire, that the film indirectly reflects a blind fanaticism in the form of a title character when he fantasises about Hitler as an idol, but that he eventually realises his atrocities. Jojo’s Rabbit is not a matter of intentions, but of how to get the message across to the audience, how he handles the tonal agreement. The film – with its apologetic and sacred character – tries to reflect on the idea that not all Nazis are evil and that you can never judge a book by its cover. And although it sounds like a good idea, Jojo has never really had a clear idea of the problematic positions of the party he worships. As the story unfolds, we see that all the other characters who support Jojo act not as people but as role models, and at one point we think that Jojo has achieved the feeling that the Nazis are evil, only to return to where he was at the beginning of the film with Elsa; and indeed, the authenticity of Jojo’s growth, both as a child and a member of German society, is fired by a grenade launcher.
Vaichiti knows (and knows) very well that to make satire work, you have to dig into things and do something controversial (like looking at the life of a Nazi at the end of the Second World War) to be full of colour and fun. At first glance, the superficial aspects of the film seem to be the necessary anchors for it to become what it wants to be, a family comedy that supposedly talks about the importance of consciousness in a world full of people who have remained ignorant and blind, but instead become an obligation. The film relies heavily on Wes Anderson-like framing and visual effects, as well as the black humour for which Whiteytie has always been famous. He became so involved that Vaititi forgot the importance of environment, historical appropriation and character analysis. The formalities of the film turn out to be just a cover for the end product: an abstract failure about (not) making an ignorant boy. For a second or two, the beauty of Jojo Rabbit’s technical performance dazzles. After looking at all of Anderson’s well-known styles and analysing all aspects of film history, we realize that this is not the domain of moonrise, that such an equation is meaningless when you consider how vain and insignificant everything is.
Everything else Whititey has done with the film is forgivable, but having the courage to twist the images of Jojo’s mother to show that she and her husband have been freedom fighters from the beginning is nothing but confusion. What doesn’t make sense is how Jojo was released to become a Nazi fantasy, albeit a passionate one, when her mother was against the Nazis the whole time. This opens a wasp’s nest for the parents of the child and leaves the audience not only in doubt about Joe’s upbringing, but also the reason why this little secret is hidden from Joe. And just as the development of the character of Jojo and her mother finally begins, nothing is ever fully realized when certain events prevent Jojo from understanding the meaning of acceptance and awareness. This argument goes back to the way the characters were created to serve Jojo only as an opportunity to find her identity, but never to be the people they are meant to become. The only consolation the film offers is the quality of her reaction and the beauty of the performance. What stands out is Roman Griffin Davis, whose acting performance was perhaps one of last year’s most groundbreaking, Thomasin Mackenzie, who proved time and again that she can be a mean and scary Gestapo agent after her meteorological rise to fame in the film Leave no trace, and Stephen Merchant, who showed his acting talent after many supporting roles in the past. The acting activity of the ensemble was supported by the terrible visual effects of the film, in which, despite such a limitation in the development of the characters, the mastery of the elements from the conception of the production to the musical score cannot be denied. In this context, Rabbit Jojo should generally be celebrated as the best film of the year by Wes Anderson, who never directed the latter (and who can be considered a compliment in some respects).
Jojo’s rabbit is as good (or as bad) as it gets. To say that this is Vaichiti’s weakest film so far would be a very weak blow for someone who has given the world a lot of great satire. It’s a pity that the intentions of the film didn’t fully materialize, but it’s a lesson for people to think about how character development contributes a lot to the beauty of the film’s story, especially since Jojo’s rabbit is such a character-driven story. Vaititi wore a double-edged sword and presented the film to the audience. The fact that he had the courage to investigate something as biased as the black Nazi comedy deserves applause. But I’m sure Jojo’s rabbit isn’t a nice life.
The Jojo Bunny, produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures, is currently exclusively shown in selected cinemas in the shopping malls of Ayala.
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