Austrian director Jessica Hausner returns to the essence of genre with her fifth feature Little Joe, which deals with issues of reality vs. identity complicated by a genetically engineered plant and how its scattered seeds begin to have notable effects on the living creatures it comes into contact with. Hausner built an impressive resume through the 2000s, beginning with her 2001 debut Lovely Rita, which premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, a sidebar she would return to again with 2004’s Hotel and with her last feature, 2014’s Amour Fou (read review). Hausner’s most successful international success to date was 2009’s Lourdes, which starred Lea Seydoux and Sylvie Testud and competed for the Golden Lion. Her latest, supported by Eurimages and produced by regular collaborators Philippe Bober (also of Dau and Enter the Void, 2009), Bertrand Faivre, Bruno Wagner, and Martin Gshlacht (who also serves as DP), is an international co-pro with the UK and Germany, clearly reflected in a cast including Ben Whishaw, Kerry Fox (of Campion’s An Angel at My Table and Bright Star), Emily Beecham, and Goran Kostic. Plot details promise something like a mix between Hausner’s underrated genre piece Hotel (2004) and something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Gist: Co-written by Hausner’s Lourdes and Amour Fou scribe Geraldine Bajard, Little Joe centers on Alice (Beecham) a woman passionate about her occupation as a plant breeder. Revealing her newly created Cinnabar flower, which she names Little Joe after her young son, she has no idea of the pronounced effect it will eventually have on humans and animals its seeds come into contact with. Suddenly, everyone around her seems to not be themselves, as if they’ve been substituted by another. Alice is led into a series of events which begin to make her question her own identity.
Release Date/Prediction: With filming under way in late 2018, our desire is to see the impressive Hausner elevated to the 2019 Cannes competition after being programmed in Un Certain Regard three times. However, if we don’t see her on the Croisette, its existential genre elements might find her destined for Locarno or her return to Venice ten years after her first crack at the Golden Lion.