“Jojo Rabbit” is the first film Mihai Malaimare Jr. has shot for Taika Waititi, but the cinematographer was completely aware of what he was signing up for when he joined the World War II satire that features an imaginary Hitler.
“I knew from the beginning [an imaginary Hitler’s in it],” Malaimare laughed at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Cinematography panel, moderated by this writer (watch above). “I love everything about Taika and I knew his other movies, so I knew what I was getting myself into.”
An “anti-hate satire,” as Waititi calls it, “Jojo” is based on a novel by Christine Leunens and follows a 10-year-old boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth who is frequently visited by his imaginary pal Hitler (Waititi). Jojo’s world and ideology are turned upside-down when he discovers that his single mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), has been hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in their attic.
Despite its setting — and fitting with its whimsical, complex tone — “Jojo” does not look or feel like your average World War II movie. There’s nary a dark, dreary atmosphere in sight; rather, the frames are bursting with vibrant colors and a playful feel. The atypical aesthetic was born during discussions between all the departments.
“We spoke about it. I remember the first time, which was 10-15 years ago, the first time I saw color footage from World War II, I was shocked. I was like, ‘Oh!’ We get used to black-and-white documentaries,” Malaimare shared. “I remembered seeing that and thinking, like, ‘Maybe it’d be interesting to do a WWII movie and just take advantage of the color saturation.’ Doing prep and just seeing the sketches from the art department and costume samples was like restarting the research with Taika. We realized we can actually use saturation to our advantage.”
Malaimare tested various lenses before realizing that 1.85 would work best for the story. He then added in Hawk V-lites. “Starting with a squarish sensor, you get close to 1.85, so with cropping, you get 1.85 anamorphic, which is really interesting,” he explained. “If you do two times anamorphic and crop it to 1.85, then you lose the most interesting part of an anamorphic lens, but with those, we took advantage of everything from skin tones to flares to everything else. Plus, not shying away from color saturation.”
As the movie progresses, the color gradually desaturates, culminating in a drab battle sequence, during which Jojo’s picturesque town is besieged. The change was “definitely” to show the loss of innocence in Jojo. “We thought about showing the passage of time,” Malaimare said. “That’s why all of us enjoyed having so much saturation at the beginning of the movie because we knew we wanted to shift drastically towards a colder color palette.”
Video by David Janove.
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