An “anti-hate satire” about a ten-year-old boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler has just won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, firmly establishing its front-runner position in the Oscars race. Second place went to Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama Marriage Story, with third place going to Bong Joon-ho’s hotly anticipated Parasite.
Jumping from Thor to the Third Reich, director Taika Waititi’s eccentric new offering is based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, following the story of Johannes “Jojo”, a steadfast and earnest member of Hitler youth. Turmoil begins to creep up on him as he discovers that his mother is harbouring a young Jewish girl in their house – much to the chagrin of Jojo’s imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler.
This off-kilter black comedy wowed audiences at the festival, which boasts half a million attendees each year. The People’s Choice Award, which is voted for through audience balloting, is seen as the best indicator of which film is set to storm the Academy Awards, effectively starting the Oscars Race. The most recent winners of the award have been Green Book, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and La La Land.
The trailer alone – with its German-dubbed versions of The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and David Bowie’s “Heroes,” as well as the presence of Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Merchant and a mustachioed Taika Waititi as the Führer himself (Waititi reportedly decided to play the role after no one else would) – is immediately disconcerting. This is clearly no prim-and-proper historical retelling of the period akin to previous Oscar darlings The Pianist or Schindler’s List; all expectations of what this film could be are thrown out of the window when comedian Rebel Wilson crops up, chirpily bellowing in her characteristic Australian drawl: “Kids! It’s time to BURN SOME BOOKS!” That isn’t even the weirdest part – you eventually see Hitler tucking into a unicorn at the dinner table.
Naturally and understandably, many critics who saw the film took issue with the film’s apparent “not all Nazis” viewpoint, criticizing the light-hearted comedic look at a group of people who committed atrocities. It begs the question of whether or not this film is necessary or appropriate; on Letterboxd, it floats nervously at the 3.9/5 mark (described by one viewer as “Inglourious Moonrise Kingdom“), whilst on Rotten Tomatoes it sits at 73%. However, many critics have praised the film’s uniqueness, positing it as a “witty, playful and always lucidly well-intentioned” (Sight & Sound) and “hysterically funny” (Vox).
Jojo Rabbit will hit UK screens on 3 January 2020.
Words by Steph Green