Finding a genre where this wildly original, bold and daring film fits is an impossibility. While it is without question a black comedy, pulling elements of Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers and Monty Python into its narrative, it is also a powerful document on the horrors of Hitlers’ reign of terror in Nazi Germany.
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a bright-eyed, precocious ten-year-old boy thrilled to be a Nazi in the closing days of WWII, his belief in Hitler near-fanatical, so much that Adolf Hitler is his imaginary friend. Yes, I wrote that. This wide-eyed young Nazi has Hitler, Der Fuhrer, as his imaginary friend. Hitler (Taika Waititi) is bouncy, breezy, gleeful, filled with an infectious energy that is both surprising and hilarious, nothing like the monster we know him to be. He is of course what Jo Jo wants him, needs him to be, and the evolution of Hitler matches the boy’s growing social conscience.
Little Jojo might love Hitler and Nazism but he sure lacks the stuff to be a soldier. He nearly blows himself up with a grenade, cannot kill a rabbit, and is relegated to being a glorified postman. His world is shattered when he discovers his mother, portrayed with infectious giddy joy by Scarlett Johansson, is hiding a Jewish teenager in her home, placing her and Jojo in grave danger. He slowly realizes she is part of the resistance and against the beliefs of Hitler. Slowly he befriends the girl in the closet, interviewing her about what it is to be a Jew and this bright-eyed little zealot realizes she is not so different than he or his mother. He likes her, eventually growing to love her when they each share an unspeakable loss.
The film grows very dark in the last third when the horrors of Nazism strike very close to home for Jojo. The wide-eyed little Nazi struggles with his beliefs when a terrible tragedy befalls him and Germany falls. His beloved Hitler cowardly shoots himself in the head, but returns, head wound and all to reveal to the boy the monster he truly is. Alternatively hilarious, and deeply tragic, the film beautifully captures the blind faith of childhood suddenly jarred to painful reality. For Jojo, it is a staggeringly heartbreaking what must happen to snap him to reality, and we feel every tear shed.
Young Davis is magnificent as Jojo, carrying this bold film on his small shoulders but never once faltering. We see the attraction of Nazism to a ten-year-old boy, you get to wear a really cool knife, but the gradual dawning on the boy as to the monster Hitler was is superbly captured by this fine young actor. Sam Rockwell is as always a comedic delight as the Commandant of the Hitler youth camp, a devoted (?) Nazi who has more good in him than meets the eye. Scarlett Johansson gives a dazzling comedic performance that is both zany, moving and aware. Elements of the great Lucille Ball combined with daffy Madeleine Kahn can be felt in her character and superb performance. She steals every scene she is in and has not felt as liberated before the camera since ‘Ghost World’ (2001). A supporting actress nomination should be waiting for her Oscar morning.
Director-writer Waititi is simply brilliant as Hitler. Whether bouncing through the air, rolling in the boy’s bed or ranting anti-Jewish propaganda to Jojo, he is an absolute comic delight. Yes, the comedy is as black as the soul of Hitler, taboo, but never falters. His work as a director is flawless, giving the film the perfect tone, allowing mayhem to rule.
This might be the film of the festival. Best line of the year?
“Fuck you, Hitler!”
The Cinemawala Rating: 4/5
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