Fifteen minutes of “What on earth is this?” soon give way to a strikingly original cinema experience which is ultimately as poignant as it is powerful – a film which is hugely endearing and which leaves you instantly wanting to watch it all over again.
Jojo Rabbit is a real gem of a film to start the New Year with, one in which Taika Waititi – who also plays an imaginary friend Adolf Hitler – has dared to be different… a dare which has richly come off.
The trailers left you feeling that this was a film which could so easily have gone either way – either hilariously funny or in the worst possible taste.
In fact, it is neither. Yes, it is funny at times, but its real quality is that it reels you in beautifully to offer a film which in the end is a compelling meditation on the Nazi mania and how it is possible to come out the other side more or less intact.
The Jojo Rabbit of the title is a ten-year-old Nazi enthusiast, wonderfully played by Roman Griffin Davis. His sister is dead and his father is apparently away at the front. Jojo is alone with his mother, and while Jojo is spouting his anti-Semitic invective, his mother (a beautiful performance from Scarlett Johansson) is finding ways to believe that her little boy, the boy she still loves, is in there somewhere. Jojo is trying to please his imaginary friend Adolf, played with comedy and venom and also cruelty and desperation by Waititi; meanwhile, his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in her attic. When Jojo discovers her, all the hate-filled prejudices he harbours are challenged as she reveals her warmth and humanity, mocking him at first, playing up to his stereotypes before allowing the strength of her character to come through.
The growing friendship between them is tenderly, compassionately drawn – the perfect echo of Jojo’s similarly complex relationship with his mother. And it’s in that context that the film’s tragedy, when it comes, hits so hard. Whoever would have thought that the simple tying of a shoelace could be invested with so much emotion...
This probably isn’t a film that’s going to linger long in the cinemas. Don’t miss something so raw and remarkable.