Des Moines Double Feature: “Jojo Rabbit” & “Pain and Glory”

Want to know which new movies are worth your time? The Des Moines Film Society has you covered, with our new series: the Des Moines Double Feature! Every so often, we’ll be recommending two of the best movies currently playing at Des Moines-area theaters.

 

This week, we’re highlighting two vastly different films from two singular artists working at opposite points in their respective careers: the wildly irreverent satire “Jojo Rabbit,” from upstart director Taika Waititi, and the contemplative “Pain and Glory,” a late-career highlight from Pedro Almodóvar.

 

“Jojo Rabbit”

 

Thomasin McKenzie and Roman Griffin Davis in “Jojo Rabbit,” directed by Taika Waititi.

 

Satirizing Nazism is rarely-tread cinematic ground. Only a handful of cinema’s most intrepid filmmakers have dared to mine comedic gold from the dark depths of the Third Reich. From Charlie Chaplin (“The Great Dictator,” 1940) to Ernst Lubitsch (“To Be or Not to Be,” 1942) to Mel Brooks (“The Producers,” 1968), this small but special group now includes Taika Waititi, the eccentric writer-director behind “Jojo Rabbit.”

 

This whimsically absurd anti-hate satire tells the story of the titular Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a Hitler Youth whose worldview is rocked with the discovery of Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish girl hiding in his mother’s attic. With an imaginary, buffoonish version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) trying his best to convince Jojo to embrace his Nazi beliefs, Jojo must decide what kind of person he ultimately wants to be. Boasting strong comic performances by Davis, Waititi, Scarlett Johansson (as Rosie, Jojo’s mother) and newcomer Archie Yates (as Yorki, Jojo’s best friend), “Jojo Rabbit” wisely focuses on character relationships, foregrounding its satire against a surprisingly poignant emotional center.

 

Clearly inspired by the pathos of “The Great Dictator,” the wit of “To Be or Not to Be” and the irreverence of “The Producers,” Waititi has harnessed his whimsical sensibilities to create something else entirely in “Jojo Rabbit”: a storybook satire, told from the perspective of a child whose moral transformation sadly contrasts with the so-called adults that surround him.

 

“Pain and Glory”

 

Asier Etxeandia and Antonio Banderas in “Pain and Glory,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar.

 

With a 30-plus year career marked by themes of family, love and identity, legendary director Pedro Almodóvar finds himself looking inward to explore those same themes in his latest film, “Pain and Glory.”

 

The movie, which is quite transparent in its autobiographical elements, follows film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) in the twilight of his career. Stuck in a creative slump, Salvador now lives in relative obscurity, riddled with chronic pain and in constant reminiscence of his childhood.

 

It’s only after one of his old films has been restored and re-released to newfound critical appreciation that he reconnects with his cinematic past, reuniting with actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). This is just the first of several “reunions” for Salvador in the movie. Through a series of chance encounters, the director finally confronts, among other things, unresolved feelings tied to a past lover and the recent death of his mother, Jacinta (Penélope Cruz).

 

In many ways, “Pain and Glory” feels like the movie Almodóvar has been building towards throughout his long and illustrious career. Yes, Almodóvar’s typical directorial flourishes are here in full force, from the intense color palette to the rejection of religious dogma. But aesthetics aside, “Pain and Glory” is more than another glossy entry in the director’s rich filmography; it’s a therapy session, an opportunity for Almodóvar to finally turn his camera back in on himself, on his own life, and simply watch.

 

— Clinton Olsasky

 

“Jojo Rabbit” and “Pain and Glory” are both currently playing at the Fleur Cinema & Cafe.