Los Angeles (AFP)
One had to be doubly courageous to make a comedy about Nazi Germany, mixing a 10-year-old boy and his imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler, and to endorse the costume, adorned with a swastika of the dictator with a mustache.
But Taika Waititi was determined to use humor to denounce intolerance and fascism in her film "Jojo Rabbit", which is released Friday on the North American screens.
"It's been 80 years this year that Charlie Chaplin has directed + The Dictator +, so I would not say it's too early," said the New Zealander, Jewish and Maori, at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills.
The film "is in the tradition of very intelligent people who have something to say and use the comedy, which is in my opinion one of the best tools against sectarianism and dictatorial regimes", adds the one who had already put a dose of humor in his blockbuster "Thor: Ragnarok".
"Jojo" takes place in Germany during the Second World War and tells how a child - member of Hitler Youth who loves Nazi uniforms and see burning books - discovers that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, hides a Jewish girl in the attic .
The young boy played by Roman Griffin Davis must overcome his fear and revulsion, and often confides in Adolf, his imaginary friend in uniform.
This "satire that declares war on hatred" was in the cards since 2011, when the mother of Taika Waititi recommended reading the novel "Heaven in a cage" Christine Leunens, which he shot the screenplay.
"There were not so many Nazis at that time," says the director.
"In 2019, the film goes out, there are more neo-Nazis, hate group, hatred and intolerance increases, as those who spread," he adds. Taika Waititi had denounced racism and discrimination in her country last year, and on March 15, New Zealand had the worst slaughter in modern history when an Australian extremist opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 Muslim faithful.
- "Audacity" -
"Jojo Rabbit" won the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival in September, a positive sign, as the last seven winners were all nominated for Oscars in the "Best Picture" category.
It could have the same success as Roberto Benigni's "Life is Beautiful", a tragic comedy about the Holocaust, awarded three Oscars in 1999.
Canadian festival-goers have ignored criticism of the film's aesthetic, its atypical costumes and dances, and the idiotic and childish look of Adolf Hitler's character in Jojo's head.
Originally, Taika Waititi was not to play the character of Hitler - who harasses the boy so he denounced the young Jew - before reaching the request of Fox Searchlight, the studio that bought the film.
"I was embarrassed most of the time being dressed like that, I was a little ashamed," admits the director.
But, he says, a well-known actor would have diverted attention to the real subject of the film, the impact of war and fascism on innocent people.
Scarlett Johansson, the best-paid actress in the world thanks to her character Black Widow in Avengers, accepted the role after having the script by Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor in the Marvel galaxy.
"It was full of fantasy and childish, but also strong and poignant with a bit of vulnerability," says the actress who plays Jojo's idealistic and somewhat crazy mother.
Sam Rockwell ("Three Billboards: The Panels of Vengeance") and Rebel Wilson ("Pitch Perfect") are also showing in the movie.
Stephen Merchant, co-creator of the TV series "The Office" which encamps a Gestapo officer, hailed "the audacity" of making this film at a time when major studios "are a little more conservative and take less of risks ".
© 2019 AFP