Whither David Fincher? Make room, Paul Thomas Anderson? There’s a somewhat new filmmaker on the world stage, Austrian writer/director Jessica Hausner, drawing comparisons to Stanley Kubrick. Her latest film, Little Joe, might be tough to categorize as it incorporates elements from genres like sci-fi and horror while also maintaining an auteurist stamp. But one thing that’s never in doubt is her command of the medium and her control of the story.
The plot itself may sound familiar: a working single mother, Emily Beecham’s Alice, feels torn between duties to her teenage son and her laboratory work. As a plant breeder, she’s on the cusp of a breakthrough on engineering a plant that can chemically induce happiness in its owner. However, her creation might be altering people in a more insidious and imperceptible way à la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Where the film really excels is in her execution, which is both impressive and eerie in its remarkable precision.
Upon the occasion of a career retrospective at New York’s Film at Lincoln Center, I sat down with Hausner to discuss her exacting visuals and methodical approach to filmmaking.
Little Joe has elements of sci-fi, horror, thriller, fairy tale, parable. Is there any one thing or way you’d describe the movie as? Or is the fluidity of genre the point?
I would say there is a large part of genre film in it. The other genres you mentioned are maybe the other half. You could also say it is half genre film and half auteur film.
You’ve mentioned that you’re fascinated by “the fact that science doesn’t provide absolute truth,” which I think is a good point to raise given that scientific principles are still subject to the limitations of the human mind. Even things that we think of as settled science like gravity have changed over centuries. Is this something you think we should be considering outside the realm of genetic modification?
Absolutely. I think in all different times of humankind, the truth has always changed. It’s not only the scientific truth that has changed. The ideology of what we think is right and wrong has changed. For example, I made a film before Little Joe called Amour Fou, and it takes place in 1811 Germany. Back then, people thought democracy was not a very good idea and monarchy was providing much more stability and reason to political decisions. Now we live in a time where we think democracy is the best version we know, and monarchy is merely some dictatorship.
Our perception of right and wrong has also changed in terms of how women are represented in society. It has changed a lot … it should change more, but it has changed throughout the years. For example, my mother when she was young had to ask permission of my father to sign her working contract, which was normal back then. From my perspective already,...
SPOILER ALERT: If you are among the few who haven’t actually watched Netflix’s Tiger King docuseries, this review contains a lot of details about what goes down in the sad big cat saga.
With Netflix poised in the coming days to cash in and crank the base up a notch with more Tiger King, it's time to come out and say it: I hate the Red State porn that is the crash and burn of Joe Exotic
The initial seven episodes of this septic and shallow patchwork of trademark infringement, sex, guns, labor exploitation, song, drugs, mullets, betrayal, animal activism, revenge, and a lot of big cats may be much binged over these weeks of coronavirus lockdown, but that doesn't mean it's actually worth watching.
Now, I get it, I sound like I'm just a dour critic who hates anything that isn't prestige premium cable or aspirational. C'mon man, you want to say, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is just so unbelievable, I can't look away.
I respectfully disagree, and in fact, propose Tiger King isn't just bad, but dangerous in a divided America persistently looking to reduce the other side to caricature.
In a presently ailing nation where TV is more voluminous and vital than ever, the truth is the March 20 launched Tiger King is a clawed white trash misery index. Gawking at some clearly fragile and damaged people like would-be reality TV star Exotic and their below the Mason-Dixon line antics, the series subsequently provides a cultural circus for those smug bicoastals under stay at home orders and screaming to rise up in moral superiority.
Essentially, the tale of big cat collector, self-styled Oklahoma zoo proprietor and 2016 Presidential candidate Exotic AKA Joseph Maldonado-Passage and his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to have rival Carole Baskin knocked off by a hitman hired for $3,000, Tiger King is in that context more a zero-sum game, literally and figuratively, than hitting the zeitgeist.
Obviously, Netflix are pretty damn good at gauging and dragging the public mood over the years, as the likes of the then phenomenon of 2015's Making A Murderer or 2018’s Wild Wild Country prove. Yet, for all the attention it has drawn, this unfocused murder for hire exploration of sorts emerges as a bastard child of Cops, a million Dateline segments from the 1990s and Fox’s short-lived Murder in Small Town X reality show from 2001.
Not exactly the prestige product that the home of Roma, The Irishman and American Factory likes to brag about at award shows. Then again, with the knowledge that the Romans sold out the Colosseum every night feeding Christians to the lions, the bottom line based House of Hastings surely loves the subscription sign up that the currently incarcerated Maldonado-Passage and the accompanying motley gaggle of...