Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Austria/United Kingdom/Germany/France, 2019. Coop99 Filmproduktion, The Bureau, Essential Filmproduktion GmbH, Arte Deutschland TV, Bayerischer Rundfunk, British Broadcasting Corporation, British Film Institute, Coproduction Office, Eurimages, Film Industry Support Austria, Filmfonds Wien, Filmstandort Austria, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Société Parisienne de Production, Osterreichischer Rundfunk, Österreichisches Filminstitut. Screenplay by Géraldine Bajard, Jessica Hausner. Cinematography by Martin Gschlacht. Produced by Philippe Bober, Bertrand Faivre, Martin Gschlacht, Jessica Hausner, Gerardine O’Flynn, Bruno Wagner. Music by Teiji Ito. Production Design by Katharina Woppermann. Costume Design by Tanja Hausner. Film Editing by Karina Ressler. Cannes Film Festival 2019.
Scientists working to genetically engineer house plants that are beautiful to the eye and sensually pleasant to the olfactory organs are developing a flower that breeder Emily Beecham has named Little Joe after her son. She and the entire crew are not aware that, in creating a plant whose scent is designed to cause happiness in those who smell it, they have also created something of a Little Shop of Horrors situation: the plant, which has also been engineered to be sterile, is determined to survive and when its pollen enters the sniffer’s body, they become obsessed with it, bringing others into contact with it in order to make sure they ingest its pollen as well. At first Beecham rejects evidence of the matter because the information comes from the one emotionally unstable doctor (Kerry Fox) at her ultra-modern, sleekly designed lab, but after she starts to notice odd behaviour from co-worker Ben Whishaw as well as her son, for whom she brought a flower home against company policy, she begins to believe the possibility that something is going very wrong. Jessica Hausner smoothly guides this funny, subtle exploration of the difficulties of modern life as pitted against modern technological obsessions, avoiding the avenues that someone like David Cronenberg would take this potentially horrific situation to and instead staying focused on the psychological fragility of her characters. The confidence of these well-educated wizards of science to keep nature under control is treated like hubris but not in a judgmental or exploitative way, the story’s controlled nature is summed up beautifully in the precision of Beecham’s insightful and charismatic performance. The imagery is unforgettable, from the neon glow of the flowers to the clean surfaces of the furniture, while the musical score, which pits the sound of Japanese ghost stories against the flashy contemporary imagery, encourages a creepy mood.