Whether one enjoys Son of Joseph will depend on how well one takes to Eugene Green’s very particular style. Favoring declamatory acting, controlled framing and editing, and a no-nonsense visual scheme, Green is as distinctive and out of step with contemporary filmmaking as ever here. Rather than update an archaic story for modern times (as the title might suggest), Son of Joseph filters a modern story—of Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), the son of a single mother trying to look for his father—through various literary, biblical and classical allusions (such the Carvaggio painting “The Sacrifice of Isaac” that features prominently in Vincent’s room).
Divided into five parts (each preceded by a title card with some Biblical reference), Son of Joseph follows Vincent as he looks for his father, Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric), a prominent publisher, against the wishes of his mother Marie (Natacha Régnier). In the process, he ends up meeting Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), Oscar’s brother, with whom he immediately establishes a close rapport (though neither of them know how they’re related). The story’s (emotional) endpoint is not hard to discern, but it’s the amusing, oddball details of the journey—including a ditsy literary blogger (the comic highlight), a donkey, and a climactic escape to the seaside (in a section titled “The Flight to Egypt”)—that captivate. Offsetting its deep emotional currents with a touch of levity, Son of Joseph builds to a terse, quietly moving conclusion, and lets its gentle, unassuming rhythms speak volumes.
Published as part of Vancouver International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 3.