➤ LITTLE JOE from p.XX
full of plants. The cinematography
pays precise enough attention to
color that some scenes show off
three shades of green. Hausner
uses camera movement to reveal
telling detail, such as rolling it
back to put Little Joe in the frame
and imply that the plant is affecting
a character’s behavior.
What is “Little Joe” really about?
The dangers of psychiatric medication?
Viruses? Addiction to recreational
drugs? Social media? Genetically
modifi ed food? How about
“all of the above, in a way that’s
vague yet heavy-handed?” Within
the fi lm’s fi rst few minutes, a scientist
calls Little Joe an antidepressant.
Before its full fl owering
it looks a bit like an opium poppy,
and when Joe fi rst inhales it its
pollen blows into his nose like a
burst of smoke. The scientists also
talk about inserting a virus into
a plant to create Little Joe. Apart
from the social media allusion, all
of the allegorical points are discussed
in the fi lm’s dialogue, yet
it doesn’t really engage with any of
them. And that’s probably for the
better, because their implications
are faintly insulting to people who
benefi t from antidepressants or
cope with HIV infection. Behind it
all lies an ambiguity about whether
Little Joe’s effects are real at all.
Indeed, Hausner seems bored
➤ MIDNIGHT FAMILY, from p.30
livelihood and their interactions
with people who may be well-off fi -
nancially but suffering physically
runs throughout the fi lm.
The ambulance’s blue and red
lights become the fi lm’s illumination.
“Midnight Family” is fi lled
with an offhand beauty. Lorentzen
walks a fi ne line. He shaped a
narrative out of a long period of
time with the Ochoas, effacing his
own presence. Given the cramped
space of the ambulance, where Fer
and Juan often sleep, he must’ve
been ducking out of their way
much of the time. There are some
remarkably tight camera angles.
The Ochoas seem to have grown
remarkably comfortable with him
sitting alongside in such fraught
and tense situations.
“Midnight Family” falls into the
cinema vérité tradition. Lorentzen
by the sci-fi aspects of her fi lm.
“Little Joe” builds a world that consists
only of the lab, Alice’s apartment,
and the outdoors near her
husband’s house. A co-production
among the UK, Austria, and Germany,
it takes place in an unspecifi
ed Anglophone country. A score
based on Teiji Ito’s percussive,
tuneless music contributes to the
never-neverland mood, combining
free jazz, traditional Japanese
music, and noise. Hausner’s sister
Tanja designed the costumes
to avoid place and time signifi ers,
instead incorporating deliberate
absurdity and suggesting an indulgence
In the end, the plants may simply
be an excuse for people to engage
in behavior they’d otherwise
keep under wraps. The fi lm puts
women in charge of the lab, where
genetic engineering feels like a new
form of motherhood. But little of
this thematic meat is explored in
a compelling way. “Little Joe” looks
great, but it’s all surface. It creates
a beautiful world, but no matter
how many ideas it throws up,
they feel disconnected, doing little
to stir reactions. The fi lm would’ve
benefi ted from getting high on Little
Joe’s pollen itself.
LITTLE JOE | Directed by Jessica
Hausner | Magnolia Pictures |
Opens Dec. 6 | Quad Cinema, 34
W. 13th St.; quadcinema.com
never interviews the Ochoas (or
anyone else). He eschews voiceover.
There’s no overt editorializing.
At times, it evokes Frederick
Wiseman’s “Hospital” and “Domestic
Violence.” But it has a clear
political point of view, indicting
the Mexican government’s failure
to provide adequate medical care
for its people. And while that’s bad
enough, it’s led to a commodifi -
cation of the most basic services
and an unhealthy competition.
The corruption of the police contributes
to making this situation
worse. This is reality, not a metaphor,
but in Mexico it doesn’t just
describe health care.
MIDNIGHT FAMILY | Directed by
Luke Lorentzen | In Spanish with
English subtitles | 1091 | Opens
Dec. 6 | Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St.,
btwn. Canal & Hester Sts.; metrograph.
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