Vincent (Victor Ezenfis) is an angry Parisian teenager. And, he has a reason for that anger: his single mom, Marie (Natacha Regnier), has never told him who his father is. When he finds a clue to the mystery man’s identity, Vincent sets off to get his question answered in “The Son of Joseph.”
Director/screenwriter Eugene Green takes a film-style page from the old David Lynch playbook with his modern day parable of the story of Christ. The filmmaker uses static sets and actor placement with dialogue recited rather than expressed, not always to good affect. But, the story is well-crafted and does an inventive job updating and reinterpreting the story of Jesus.
Green, with his static style, is able to set up tableaux that are composed with artistry and with a photographic look. The characters are more symbolic than realistic, which works in the context of the story.
My only complaint, besides the director’s stilted style, is the film’s star, newcomer Victor Ezenfis. The young actor, either by training or through his director “vision” of the character, is one note: sullen. His pissed off demeanor feels like a real teen but there is almost no expression on his face until the end. The veteran cast, though, is first rate, especially Fabrizio Rongione as the titular, in one way, Joseph. The intelligent story makes the pluses outweigh the minuses in my mind. I give it a B-.
Employing the same, formalized theatrical style that distanced me from his "La Sapienza," writer/director Eugène Green has won me over with his latest, "The Son of Joseph." The artificial acting style in this modern twist on the Nativity story may take some getting used to, but Green's puckish tweaking of the French literary set along with his moving take on paternity, make this one a charmer.
When we first meet teenaged Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), he's a sullen and suspicious boy holding a grudge against his mother Marie (Natacha Régnier, "The Dreamlife of Angels") for refusing to divulge the identity of his dad. He breaks into her desk and finds a letter which reveals the man as Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric, "Venus in Fur"), a preeminent Parisian publisher. He blusters his way into Pormenor's release party for 'The Predatory Mother," where he's mistaken by blithering critic Violette Tréfouille (Maria de Medeiros, "Pulp Fiction") for Pormenor's newest discovery.
We've witnessed Vincent hovering on the edge of wrong doing (although he recoils at his friend's offer of partnership in a sperm donation business), but with Oscar in his sites, he takes action, stealing a knife from a hardware store and hiding in dad's office. He cannot complete what he's set out to do, however, and exiting the Hotel Clovis (its concierge is played by Green), he's stopped by Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione, "Two Days, One Night") who asks if he's in trouble. Unbeknownst to Vincent, Joseph is Oscar's less successful brother, his uncle. Vincent responds to Joseph's nonjudgmental support, reveling in trips to churches and museums with the older man who teaches him how to listen to the voice of God (the life sized poster of Caravaggio's The Sacrifice of Isaac hanging in Vincent's bedroom proves a pivot). When he asks his mom if he can invite a friend for dinner, she's delighted, but Joseph is not what she's expecting.
Green revels in his much loved arts while impishly tucking gags into his tale of unconventional family. When Joseph takes Vincent and Marie to see his childhood home in Normandy, they're pitted against Oscar's world in a final act both slapstick and profound.
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