Little Joe (UK-Austria-Germany)

Little does she know

I found this film intensely irritating because it seemed to me, though it is science fiction, it was taking a snooty attitude to the genre by insisting, through its arthouse aesthetic, that it’s not a genre film. I’m not saying you can’t do arthouse-genre but if the approach to the set of conventions is to drain them of significance then we’re looking at a pile of dung. Andrei Tarkovsky managed to make SF ‘difficult’ in Solaris (Solaryis, USSR, 1972)  and Stalker (USSR, 1979), for instance, and interesting. Director Jessica Hausner, who co-wrote with Géraldine Bajard, takes a template used so brilliantly in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and allows the plot points to clunk together with all the momentum of a feather floating earthwards. What’s worse, the cues on the soundtrack, which kept reminding me of the feminist classic, Maja Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (US, 1943), suggested the revelations were meant to be dramatic; Roy Stafford pointed out that the composer, Ito Teiji, had worked with Deren. Ito died in 1981 so Hausner is incorporating his avant garde music which includes barking dogs at revelatory moments which would be disturbing if the plot point hadn’t been signified half an hour earlier.

Of course maybe I’m just not ‘getting it’. Emily Beecham, as the protagonist Alice who genetically engineers plants to make us feel happy, won best actress at Cannes, which is hard for me to fathom. I’m not saying Beecham is poor, just that the stilted acting style, which runs throughout all the performances, is obviously required by Hausner; but to what purpose? On one level, there seems to be suggestion that ‘nerdish’ scientists struggle to relate to others; Alice’s son’s girlfriend calls him a nerd. On another level, it might be implying that using chemicals to regulate mood is something that changes our humanity (a key theme of the film). Or, possibly, it’s representing characters as postmodern, in the sense of Cronenberg’s Crash (Canada, 1996), were emotions are no longer real but rather simulacra. Such ambiguity is the grist of arthouse but it wasn’t articulated in any clear fashion: the ending of the film didn’t offer us an ‘arthouse question’ but a heap of loose ends.

Similarly, near the end of the film we see a shot of the Liver Building so rather than the film’s setting being a, more or less, anonymous city it is suddenly in a particular place: Liverpool. But why take so long to tell us that? Probably because it isn’t significant in which case well tell us at all?! Maybe the Austrian Hausner didn’t know of the building’s iconic status?

You may have gleaned the film pissed me off.

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