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Daring WW2 comedy drama likely to divide audiences

Film review: Jojo Rabbit (12A), 8.5/10

Adapted from Christine Leunen's novel Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit is a daring comedy drama, which boldly recounts one episode of suffering and redemption during the Second World War through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy, who claims the Fuhrer as an imaginary friend.

New Zealand writer, director and star Taika Waititi confidently walks a tightrope between heartbreak and hilarity, employing his quirky brand of humour to witness the rise of fascism and its devastating consequences.

Jojo Rabbit will undoubtedly divide audiences as it turns the pages of one of the darkest chapters of 20th-century history.

The central concept is deeply objectionable and Waititi's pointedly outlandish portrayal of Hitler as a bile-spewing buffoon - as imagined by a boy who has never met the leader in person - has the power to offend.

A stellar lead performance from young London-born actor Roman Griffin Davis illuminates every frame of this challenging and morally complex journey of self-discovery.

He beautifully captures the naivete of an impressionable tyke, who has hungrily devoured every syllable of Nazi propaganda and regurgitates it in the hope that unerring loyalty might be rewarded with early promotion to Hitler's Special Guard.

By the film's closing frames, his childhood innocence lies in tatters.

The diminutive hero is Johannes Betzler (Davis), who lives in Germany with his mother (Scarlett Johansson).

The youngster is an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth and undergoes training with best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) at a camp run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), his second-in-command Finkel (Alfie Allen) and Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson).

The captain orders Johannes to kill a helpless wild animal as part of his learning but the boy refuses and is cruelly dubbed 'Jojo Rabbit' by fellow recruits.

Jojo turns to his imaginary comrade, Adolf Hitler (Waititi), to overcome this setback.

Returning home, the boy talks excitedly about a German victory over the Allies.

'No more politics,' pleads Frau Betzler. 'The dinner table is neutral ground, it's Switzerland.'.

Soon after, Jojo discovers a Jewish girl called Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in a crawl space adjoining the bedroom of his late sister.

The boy intends to notify authorities but Elsa points out that Jojo's mother would be executed for harbouring a Jew so the boy is compelled to hold his tongue.

Jojo Rabbit is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, which navigates some tricky and delicate changes in pacing and tone, including an unexpected sucker punch to convey one character's fate.

I willingly bought into the satire and sentimentality of Waititi's vision, which affirms the enduring strength of love to light a path through the darkness.

'I think you'll find metal is the strongest thing in the world,' cheerfully counters Jojo.

He will learn.

Wexford People