The Son of Joseph Screen 85 of 24 reviews

The Son of Joseph

2016

The Son of Joseph Poster
  • I didn't see this coming: THE SON OF JOSEPH, writer/director Eugène Green's stylized, deadpan satire, turns out to be a non-ironic Christian allegory about love and resistance. While it's rather unclassifiable, I laughed much harder here than at many so-called comedies. Straightaway, it establishes a dialogue between present and past: cars whiz by in today's Paris against sacred Baroque music.

  • The movie’s spare, sharp dialogue offers some sublime and original theological reflections and revisitations of Old and New Testament themes that are more than asides—they’re the characters’ own guideposts for action. Yet the movie’s vast thematic scope and its high moral purpose are joined to a cinematic vision that’s also mightily, incisively comedic.

  • Some viewers may be quick to dismiss The Son of Joseph, a whimsical take on the Nativity story, for its familiar narrative and stripped-down style. But it is precisely the clarity of expression achieved through simplification that makes for the mystifying beauty of Green’s film. His approach to composition and staging, deeply informed by Baroque art, rests on a clash between harmony and movement.

  • A builder of sorts, Green gives prime importance to harmoniousness of form, and his film ends with a radical reconfiguration of the same set of figures that it begins with: a couple, a lone figure and an animal. The first configuration includes Vincent, two twisted teenagers and the trapped rat they are tormenting with long needles in a dingy hideaway. The last includes Vincent, his newly united parents and that gentle donkey walking in open air. What a pleasure it is to step into the light.

  • Green brings to The Son of Joseph his characteristic compositional precision, an appreciation for Baroque art and music, and a distinctive way of filming conversations... The film’s rigorous design does not prevent it from exuding hope and a touching sincerity. The concluding scene on the beach in Normandy retains the film’s minimalist design and rewards viewers who remember Au hasard, Balthazar, but also suggests the formation of a new family and the redeeming power of love.

  • One of cinema’s last great modernists, Green here continues his typically rigorous compositional schema and emphasis on bodies and rigid choreography rather than action or emoting. Meticulously framed, starkly lit, and almost uniformly static, his compositions (care of cinematographer Raphaël O’Byrne) often betray a dramaturgical depth resembling the Baroque period paintings seen throughout the film.

  • Mathieu Amalric is superb as the sullen, dissipated monster Vincent eventually confronts... There’s everything we’ve come to expect in a Green film – crystalline poetry, beguiling formal control, religious and spiritual matters treated seriously yet lightly, impassive acting, Baroque art and music – but with some new elements: a sex scene! A chase sequence! And this being a Nativity of sorts, of course there’s a donkey. Green is a master and this may be his most pleasurable film to date.

  • Most impressive of all of Green’s reworkings of film is his consistent deployment of the intense close-up, an oblique visual analog to the flattened speech patterns. DP Raphael O’Byrne bathes in light these glorious images. Characters posed symmetrically look straight ahead when they speak, as if talking into the air.

  • The film works through many tones (and puns), all inflected through an idiosyncratic style heavily influenced by late Bresson (The Devil, Probably comes to mind more than a few times), yielding a unified, joyous treatise on religion, family, art, and love that couldn’t be farther away from being a rarified exercise in formalism.

  • In Green’s hands, the old routine about telltale knickers is transformed into something preposterously stately—as if a low-brow sex gag had been sneaked into a performance of Racine... It's a strange and wonderful film by a strange and wonderful writer-director.

  • As performed by Fabrizio Rongione and (especially) Natacha Régnier, Green's signature direct-to-camera shot has an effect on me that's like a non-lethal version of Madame Psychosis speaking lovingly to the viewer-infant in Himself's "Infinite Jest (V?)." It's pure, unconditional compassion—a singular and radical approach that pays off magnificently here in the climactic non-confrontation with Amalric and the gendarmerie.

  • It's possible that Green's loveingly stilted Bressonianism is another way in which he pays homage to the paradox of the Baroque, since the characters who are of most concern here (Vincent, Joseph, Marie) are the least dynamic, most poised between cinematic movement and frozen time of statuary. By the end, they are "liberated," crossing the screen and roaming down the beach. But arguably, having achieved the status of Holy Family, they are outside of human time altogether.

  • One might be tempted to say that Green accomplishes the not-as-unlikely-as-it-sounds fusion of Bresson and Kaurismaki. But this would be inaccurate, because “Son of Joseph” doesn’t actually feel like a fusion or pastiche. Green is on to his own thing, and while it takes some getting used to, it ultimately provides big rewards both in entertainment and Stuff with a Capital S (its adaptation and elaboration of Biblical themes posits some worthwhile moral propositions).

  • Mr. Green’s taste for frontal compositions and clipped editing sometimes recalls the filmmaker Robert Bresson, although Bresson wasn’t known for his throwaway humor. (Probably not many teenagers’ bedrooms include replicas of Caravaggio’s “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” and Maria de Medeiros has a funny role as a perpetually confused literary critic.) “The Son of Joseph” can be trying in its whimsy, yet it builds to a lovely finale that evokes the Bible, the French Resistance and the surreal.

  • Green’s pursuit of purity is also a pursuit of symmetry, and like most of his films, The Son Of Joseph blurs the line between running gags and symbolic motifs, whimsical parodies and allegories. It’s overlong, but behind its jabs at literary pretension, droll punchlines, and minimalist sight gags lies a search for the kind of guidance that parables used to impart.

  • There’s a lightness to Green’s touch, and a gentle beauty to many of his images, that redeems these flaws and even courts the sublime. While I’m not sure Son of Joseph, his latest, reaches that level, it has its moments, and given how preposterous and labored the film often is, that’s nothing to scoff at.

  • The art-history lessons typify Green's reverence of the past, obeisance that is further evident in the filmmaker's signature use of mannered, declaimed dialogue and other nods to classical French theater... Yet nothing buoys the occasionally claustrophobic Son of Joseph more than the radiant, freckled face of newcomer Ezenfis: Vincent may insist that "an angel" instructed him to set up his mother and Joseph, but the real love story is between the boy and his older friend.

  • The film does manage to catch you off guard, mixing absurdism and sincerity, comedy and tragedy, the realistic and the surreal, the modern and the classical and, finally, pulsing emotion and brittle formalism. The Son of Joseph actually makes for the perfect entry point for brave travellers looking to explore the wonderful world of this singular director.

  • Occupying a space somewhere between the undiluted clarity of storybook parable and the unresolved dynamism of documentary portraiture, Son of Joseph may reach foregone narrative conclusions (a surrogate family is forged, a scoundrel is redeemed), but its characters are hardly just props for the delivery of a thesis. The insistence of Green's gaze throughout the film encourages us to look beyond the mechanisms of speech and behavior at the more uncanny movements of the conscience.

  • Some of this is obviously intended as comedy, but other parts are less clearly jocular in their intent, though many people in the press screening I attended laughed like they were in a Mel Brooks movie. While Green certainly has his whimsical side, I would say that the reactions his latest provokes mark it a mixed success by a very unusual artist.

  • Of the two [La Sapienza and Son of Joseph], Joseph does a better job at balancing these impulses; Green’s style, which flirted with pretention in La Sapienza, is better suited to Joseph, with a level of temperance lending it echoes of Bresson.

  • It’s easy to guess where the third act is headed, and it’s a shame that its gag-like construction (replete with a running donkey joke) almost completely suffocates the subtler and more satisfying elements of the first two acts. It’s a bit of a forgone conclusion, though, and as a film that’s actually about goodness, Le Fils de Joseph is quite a rare beast.

  • The mythology of Le Fils de Joseph slips from the Old Testament to the New—guess what Vincent’s mother’s name is!—and a mild yet utterly delightful slow-motion farce lopes through revelations of identities culminating in the image you see posted at the top of this entry. Just lovely.

  • No one behaves quite like a human being in Eugene Green’s “Le Fils de Joseph,” yet a soulful sense of humanity emerges from their heightened declamations anyway... Green makes films for anyone willing to enter his peculiar universe of expressive purity and (mostly) suspended cynicism, to which “Joseph” reps one of his most beguiling invitations.

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