“Jojo Rabbit,” which opens Friday in Toronto and other major cities throughout November, is directed by Taika Waititi. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“Jojo Rabbit,” which opens Friday in Toronto and other major cities throughout November, is directed by Taika Waititi. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Taika Waititi says ‘Jojo Rabbit’ isn’t a ‘challenging’ take on the Holocaust

TORONTO — “Jojo Rabbit” director Taika Waititi is laying flat on the floor of a hotel conference room.

It’s the middle of a whirlwind press day at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and despite how uncomfortable he looks, cushioned by a thin carpet, Waititi won’t muster the energy to pull himself into a chair.

“This festival is great, but man, am I rinsed,” the New Zealand filmmaker mutters with a hearty exhale, and an invitation to join him on the ground. After an exhausting morning defending his latest film, Waititi would prefer to conduct this interview horizontal.

“Jojo Rabbit,” his Second World War-era satire set in a cartoonish bubble of a Hitler Youth camp, rode into TIFF with cautiously optimistic buzz and was met with a divided response from critics. Some knocked the film’s light-hearted portrayal of Nazi Germany and detached engagement with the Holocaust, while others praised its zany humour and heartfelt moments.

The split became a conversation starter between festivalgoers who ultimately voted “Jojo Rabbit” as this year’s TIFF People’s Choice Award winner, surprising prognosticators and instantly amplifying its prospects for awards season.

It’s now considered a serious contender for a best picture Oscar nomination.

“Jojo Rabbit,” which opens Friday in Toronto and other major cities throughout November, tells the story of a German boy who discovers his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is hiding a Jewish teenage girl in their attic. The revelation presents him with a conflict of morality as he occasionally confides in an imaginary friend — a flamboyant version of Adolf Hitler, played by Waititi, that winks at Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.”

A supporting cast of colourful Nazi characters deliver the punchlines, among them Rebel Wilson, who plays a variation of her Fat Amy role in “Pitch Perfect” and Sam Rockwell revisiting the buffoonery of his racist police officer in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which won him a best supporting actor Oscar.

The film carries the DNA of Waititi’s past work, including the coming-of-age story “Boy,” his absurd vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” and the rebellious spirit behind Marvel’s mould-shattering superhero adventure “Thor: Ragnarok.”

Waititi, 44, adapted “Jojo Rabbit” from Christine Leunens’ novel “Caging Skies,” which explores the darker elements that drive its protagonist. Her book doesn’t feature an imaginary Hitler, and Waititi’s film brushes aside her more unsettling portrayal of humanity.

“I’m not sure you can say this film is a challenging approach to the subject,” Waititi acknowledges after flipping on his side and cradling his head in his hand.

“It’s your pretty standard fare when it comes to trying to remind people that being a Nazi is not cool — like, that is the message.”

Waititi is bound to encounter more tough questions about “Jojo Rabbit” as the film launches its awards campaign. Some critics have wondered why now, in the midst of a resurgence of emboldened white supremacists and dictatorships across the world, the director wanted to put his comedic flair on such a terrible period of history.

The director shrugs off those questions, saying he aimed to “keep the conversation going and make something that isn’t too safe,” and by those accounts he’s happy with the outcome.

“I’ve never come into this feeling that I could be told what to do,” he said of his career.

“I’ve made a very big effort to surround myself with smart people, and I’d like to think that I’m quite a smart person. So if I get the film and understand it — and my friends and my peers get it — then that’s all I can do.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo by Advocate staff)
Zero tax increase approved by Red Deer city council for 2021 and 2022

City council passed operating budgets for the next two years on Thursday

Red Deer city council approved a $39.6 million police budget for 2021, up for inflationary reasons from $37.9 million in 2020. (Black Press file photo).
Red Deer city council retains police funding, while also launching a crisis team

De-funding police is not a conversation in this municipality

Alberta reported an additional 1,854 cases of COVID-19 Thursday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories)
Red Deer has 289 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

The Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre in Red Deer has new owners. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Cambridge Hotel in Red Deer has new ownership group

‘They’re making an investment in this iconic hotel for the future,’ says general manager Gil Vallee

The new Gasoline Alley Farmers Market officially opened on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Gasoline Alley brewery a collaboration between brewers and farmers

Red Deer County’s newest brewery has been built from the ground up… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

A mother and her son, shown in this undated handout image provided by Kristy Wolfe Photography, communicate using a PECS binder about what is happening next in their day. A new report from British Columbia's representative for children and youth says the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing problems with the province's support systems for those with so-called special needs, leaving families feeling abandoned. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kristy Wolfe Photography *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Children and youth with special needs ‘left out’ of pandemic response: B.C. watchdog

Children and youth with special needs ‘left out’ of pandemic response: B.C. watchdog

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney makes an announcement at a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The Prairies have become the epicentre of the second wave of COVID-19 in Canada with exponential growth in cases linked to pandemic fatigue and a reluctance to impose stricter health measures in the fall, infectious disease experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Twist of fate: Prairie provinces become COVID-19 hot spot in pandemic’s second wave

Twist of fate: Prairie provinces become COVID-19 hot spot in pandemic’s second wave

The Bond Fire, driven by high winds, burns the hillsides west of Santiago Canyon Road near Silverado Canyon, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (Leonard Ortiz/The Orange County Register via AP)
Wind fans wildfire in California canyons, residents flee

Wind fans wildfire in California canyons, residents flee

In this photo provided by the United Nations, Volkan Bozkir, President of the seventy-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly, chairs the General Assembly: General Debate, during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, at UN headquarters in New York. The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders started Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches from some of the planet's biggest powers, kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic that will likely be a dominant theme at their video gathering this year. (Rick Bajornas/UN Photo via AP)
UN chief: Vaccine can’t undo damage from global pandemic

UN chief: Vaccine can’t undo damage from global pandemic

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in a scene from "Wonder Woman 1984." The film isn't skipping theaters or moving to 2021, but it is altering course. The last big blockbuster holdout of 2020 is still opening in U.S. theaters on Christmas Day but it will also be made available to HBO Max subscribers free of charge for its first month, Warner Bros. said Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Clay Enos/Warner Bros Pictures via AP)
In seismic shift, Warner Bros. to stream all 2021 films

In seismic shift, Warner Bros. to stream all 2021 films

Shawn Mendes is shown in a scene from "In Wonder" in this handout photo. Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes says the much buzzed-about shower scene that opens his new Netflix documentary was a result of great trust between himself and the director. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Netflix *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Shawn Mendes says ‘In Wonder’ shower scene was a result of great trust with director

Shawn Mendes says ‘In Wonder’ shower scene was a result of great trust with director

Elliot Page poses for photographs on the red carpet for the movie 'Freeheld ' during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, in Toronto, on Sunday, September 13, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Elliot Page coming out offers historic visibility for trans and non-binary community

Elliot Page coming out offers historic visibility for trans and non-binary community

Patrick Guimond, owner of One Eleven Grill, has made a desperate plea to the premier to help restaurants who are struggling with the new COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
700 reservations cancelled: Red Deer business owner makes impassioned plea to Premier

Patrick Guimond had simply reached a tipping point. The owner of One… Continue reading

Most Read