Oscars 2020: Jojo Rabbit, or the little Nazi that couldn’t

I’ve been fairly disappointed with many of the Academy Awards’ nominations this year, but there have been some glimmers of hope. This film is one of them. Kaya eto, napabalikwas ang lola mo at biglang napa-blog ulit dahil sa kanya. Balak ko namang itodo talaga ulit ang film reviewing life ko lately. Hassle lang si Enero dahil sa dami ng nagaganap. Siyempre, nagbabadya ang Bulkang Taal (’til now!) and there’s a worldwide virus scare going on, ‘yun lang namaaaan. Hayst. Kaya eto, relax go see a movie tayo pansamantala para maibsan ang mga sci-fi-ish realities na ito.

Let’s start with the Oscars noms nga. Game.

JOJO RABBIT (2019)

d. Taika Waititi

s. loosely based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

c. Scarlett Johansson and the two kids in the lead na magaling

Pitch: A pre-teen German boy who idolizes Hitler finds out that his mum is hiding a Jewish teen in their attic.

Catch: Channeling Aronofsky and Anderson much, Waititz? 

I’ve been trying to detach myself from making babad sa sobrang 24/7 pop  culture feed content ng mundo lately kaya di ko knows na may tao palang ang pangalan ay Taika Waititi. Since he’s New Zealander, kebs lang sa pangalan niyang nakakatawang pakinggan sa mga Pinoy I bet. (Gudlak kung nag-courtesy call sa Malacañang ‘yan like Tarantino before, ‘no, and wonder if they’ll get his name right). But he’s known as a comedian pala, which doesn’t make me wonder na kung bakit ganito ang take niya sa isang very dark-themed YA novel.

I read all of the info post-watching because I don’t want to see spoilers of sorts, saka di ko talaga kalakaran magbasa ng reviews or anything in-depth about a film prior to watching. I want to judge/enjoy the film for itself and see if it can stand on its own, regardless of its history or if it’s an adaptation or whatever or kung part siya ng isang multiverse/shared universe chenelyn eklavu like that. A film is a film is a film, to paraphrase Juliet Capulet, ‘ika nga; it should be able to stand on its own, notwithstanding its pre-creation processes. Kaya I was fairly entertained by this one even if its original material pala is not as whimsical or lighthanded as the film.

The pitch is fairly simple, and I can see why the filmmakers were attracted to it for its cinematic potential. A pre-pimply teen is so obsessed with becoming part of Hitler’s personal guards kaya sumali siya sa isang camp that trains kiddos into future Nazis (As in, “Today, we’ll burn books!” lol). Tapos may imaginary friend pa si boy in the form of the Führer himself (played by the director pala).  Dun pa lang, jackpot na sa potential ang young adult novel na ito di ba. So imagine if things get complicated by giving the Jojo boy a dad who disappeared fighting the war (na baka speculation nila ay either deserter siya or nag-defect with the resistance) and a lovely mom played by ScarJo who’s later revealed na sympathetic siya sa resistance or any move to stop the war. Complicate pa more by having the mom hide a Jewish teenage girl sa attic nila who turns out to be a friend of Jojo boy’s older sister na namatay (not revealed how). Ripe for cinematic conflicts, right? Mismo.

What I like about this film is how it made me feel like I’m watching a diluted teenage version of a Darren Aronofsky film since it opened with his famed “hiphop montage” technique (audio beats a la hiphop music is formed by cutting together short bits of shots that produce the rhythmic sound). Aronofsky did this style first sa very dark but interesting film niya noon called Requiem for a Dream though the handling of the boy’s narrative arc reminded me a bit of Wes Anderson’s coming of age film Moonrise Kingdom naman, itself an Academy Award nominee for the screenplay category.  I say diluted Aronofsky ito dahil the themes are equally dark as his films like Requiem nga. Ito naman, parang escapist fare siya pero later on, pinakita niya sa bata ‘yung long-denied truth na hindi niya makita figuratively and literally: the horrors of the war. And it’s Moonrise Kingdom in approach because of the way the narrative focused on adult themes but from the point of view of the kiddos, featuring kid characters who are uniquely quaint in their quirkiness much like how Jojo is also quirky in that sense (BFF mo ba naman si faux Hitler ehhhh).

If quirky coming of age films are your thing, don’t miss this one. There’s a great reason why it was nominated for best screenplay before.

Jojo Rabbit is obviously made as a satire film, given the lighthanded approach to the topic at hand. Aside from having Hitler as an imaginary BFF, imagine having the comedic Rebel Wilson play her usual put-my-non-acting-self-into-the-role trademark while playing the Nazi camp leader’s assistant. It also helps na magagaling ang support characters na ito nga, lalo na ‘yung frustrated Nazi leader played by Sam Rockwell.  It’s almost escapist if not for the climax and denouement part when the war finally came to town. And even before that, for two crucial plot points that happen to two crucial adults here. I’ll leave that crucial parts for you to discover na lang para no spoilers.

“Heil me, man!” Hahaha natatawa ako dun.

But the satire here works for me since the boy needed some kind of permanent figure to banter with, and to exchange thoughts with, even if it’s on a comic level. Imagine having Hitler as your imaginary friend while discussing what you think about things in life. Nakakatuwang nakakaloka to imagine. But you also get to understand the boy for drawing up this kind of fixed imagery in his life since the father is absent, the mother is always preoccupied outside, and his best friend was separated from him when Jojo needed to leave the teen Nazi training camp early on. Plus of course, there’s this inescapable fact that childhood could get quite lonely at times, in ways that children can’t understand and/or cope with, but they have to deal with it nonetheless regardless if they didn’t know how to do that exactly. I am reminded of an ’80s film called Cloak and Dagger where a teen likes playing a private investigator mystery videogame, and the detective character in that game is his imaginary friend in real life — na patterned pala sa image ng kanyang absentee father.

Ah, the films of my youth. Classic pa rin talaga. Check this ’80s film out if you like kiddie-driven espionage stuff na serious ha. The boy from E.T. stars in this one.

Upon the boy’s discovery of the hiding Jewish teen girl, it gets predictable from there since you know where this kind of cinematic dish will be served eventually — in the table of Jews-are-not-that-bad-and-the-Nazi-brainwashing-is-wrong-after-all. What’s left for us viewers to munch on is the suspense and fright of the girl being discovered by authorities or not, and what happens to the boy and his mom if this eventuality happens or not. Yet even with this given predictability, the film still sailed on smoothly for me because of the neatly prepared plot points that gave off great plant-and-payoff scenes throughout. This means that ‘yung small details which you think didn’t matter when introduced (planted) means a lot pala dahil may big reveal silang gagawin later (the payoff). It’s a film scriptwriting thingie, and also similar to a theatrical one though iba lang ang tawag. This is what they term as Chekhov’s gun (as in, sabi ni lolo Anton, kung may pinakita kang baril sa stage early on, dapat pumutok ‘yan sa play later on, kumbaga dapat may saysay at silbi siya sa naratibo). Ang poignant lang nung shoes dito ni madir, which also became a motif aside from a great plant-and-payoff (like lagi silang napapahinto to tie shoelaces, parang symbolism of how they have to go on with their lives and walk the path even if sometimes it’s difficult or it poses a threat kasi the laces are untied chenelyn). I am reminded here of a very obvious plant-and-payoff-ish move na ginawa dati ni Spielberg sa Schindler’s List in coloring the little girl’s red coat amidst a black-and-white film (mej obvs lang ang approach ni lolo Steven ‘no).

One of my favorite moments is the mom-and-son bonding when they went out biking. “Dancing is for people who are free” sabi ni mum. The statement itself (and the shot) also serves as another plant-and-payoff for a scene towards the end (and the other is for the spoiler scene).

I can also see why this film was nominated for Best Picture since it also gave off the vibes of another Oscar-winning Holocaust-themed film with a kid as a central character: La Vita È Bella, or Life is Beautiful. This ’90s winner featured a Jewish father and son tandem sent to a concentration camp, and the dad created elaborate game scenarios for the kid para hindi siya masita sa camp at basta na lang patayin ng Nazis. That one didn’t need to show many horrors because they were all implied, to mimic how the horrors were hidden from the boy nga; brilliant move for me, since cinema for me is more effective through inference and the power of suggestion/implications instead of blatant spectacle showing off. Of course, the two films were telling different narratives, but their vibes of presenting a war from the lens of different types of kids appealed to me. And it’s obvious that Jojo is a different kind of kid naman, though the parallelism on imaginary game-play to survive is a good device used by both.

Not quite there yet itong film ni Waititz unlike Benigni’s back then. You can also sense that this might have been a major “inspiration” given the feels.

Scarlett is also nominated for this film in the acting category though I suspect nadala lang ang voters sa feels and vibes ng film lol (sarreh ScarJo labs kita but ehhhh). For me, parang gusto ko kasing alalayan si madir sa German diction niya kasi ewan ko ba pero feeling ko parang malalaglag anytime lol at magde-default siya into speaking like Natasha Romanoff (hahaha kaloka ka talaga MCU!). But oh well papel, goodluck na lang dito at sa Marriage Story nom mo teh.

So if you’re looking for a feel-good-na-hindi-naman-dapat film na may saysay somewhat, watch this one. And if you want to be disturbed, read the novel version kasi this film ends midway lang sa book (the boy grows up pa with the hiding Jew girl pala doon). I think tito Taika did a good job naman in deciding to finish the film the way it did. Sometimes film adaptations are better than book versions in that sense, as it decides to give focus on certain aspects that are more chewable and digestible sa viewers and more imaginative in its audiovisual reinterpretation… unlike some adaptations we saw na parang nasira ang book huhu (I’m looking at you, Greta G) but that’s for another rebyu.

Sige watch na!

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