Jessica Hausner • Director of Little Joe
“I try to describe the ambiguity of the way we perceive reality”
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2019: Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner tells us about her English-language film Little Joe, unveiled in competition in Cannes
Previously selected three times in Cannes, in Un Certain Regard (with Lovely Rita [+see also:
film profile] in 2001, Hotel [+see also:
film profile] in 2004, and Amour Fou [+see also:
film profile] in 2014), as well as once in competition in Venice in 2009 with Lourdes [+see also:
interview: Jessica Hausner
film profile], Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner has made her English-language debut with her fifth feature, Little Joe [+see also:
interview: Jessica Hausner
film profile], playing in competition at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to take a closer look at the topic of genetic engineering?
Jessica Hausner: It began with a very simple idea. I wanted to make a film about Frankenstein, from Mary Shelley’s novel, but a female version of it. In my film, the character of the scientist is a woman who has created a plant, but also a monster: her own son. And these two monsters do whatever they please: she cannot control them. What interested me also was to explore a fairytale atmosphere. Then, when I started to do some research and to gather up my ideas, I encountered the idea of genetic engineering and of course, it’s a very contemporary topic, which is talked about a lot and concerns everybody. I dug deeper into the idea and discovered a fascinating field, especially since speaking to scientists has shown me that science is divided and offers very contradictory answers when it comes to genetic engineering.
Besides, ambiguity is at the heart of the film as a whole.
In all of my films, I try to describe the ambiguity in the way we perceive reality. Everyone perceives it from a much more personal point of view than we all think. Each society has established certain rules so that we may all live together, but in reality, each one of us lives in their own world. That is something I care a lot about. In my film, for example, what does it mean to love your child, or for a child to love their mother? Even those feelings are ambiguous, ambivalent, from both sides.
Are secrets the main theme of the film?
Yes. Every human being remains a mystery. In the film, there is also the fact that the mother begins to doubt her own son. We all love to believe that a mother-son relationship is a stable and positive bond, that we cannot question. In my film, it is questioned, because the son suddenly changes and isn’t the person that his mother knew any longer. In that instant, a huge ambivalence appears.
Doubt pervades the entire film, and for the viewer too, who might have different interpretations.
When writing the script with Géraldine Bajard, we worked in that direction, creating scenes that could be a little scary but which always kept some space for the possibility that, perhaps, nothing had happened at all. Creating a true mystery full of suspense, without giving the audience any definitive answers, was a fun challenge.
Your leading female characters, Alice and Bella, are rather psychologically unstable. Why is that?
I think that what we call psychological stability could also be described as stupidity. Psychological instability means that you are sensitive and intelligent. My point of view is also a woman’s point-of-view on the so-called female folly which, in my opinion, is just sign of a profound perceptiveness and of a true understanding of the contradictory aspects of life.
What were your main intentions, on a visual level?
I’ve been working for a long time with the same the same team in the cinematography, costume, and set design departments. Film after film, we have come to develop a special, rather artificial style. Because I love showing that a film is a film. I’ve always been very intrigued by the fact that, as a filmmaker, we choose where we place the camera, and I want the viewers to be totally aware of that. It is just a film and it isn’t a perfect world. The world that I show has questions marks and black holes: not all of it is visible.
Little Joe is your first film English-language film. Did that changed the way you work?
I felt very at ease. I like the concise aspect of the English language for the dialogues. Things can be said in a dry, precise, and swift way, without inducing anything pathetic or banal. I loved writing the dialogues directly into that language and it has been a very positive experience. But I also chose the English language because it is the language that works best for genre films and also, of course, to reach a larger audience, I hope.
(Translated from French)
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