The Son of Joseph: Joseph, Mary and… Vincent
by David González
- BERLIN 2016: Eugène Green presents his delightful new film in the Forum at Berlin: this Biblical update verging on a romantic comedy features his trademark hieratic style of directing
Few directors would be able to pull off such a feat. A film that ponders fatherhood in a totally unique way, hints at a reinterpretation of various Biblical stories, toys with the ingredients of romantic and even screwball comedy, and is characterised by its unnatural characters and situations. Eugène Green is without a doubt one of those directors, as all of these elements are combined in The Son of Joseph [+see also:
film profile], his latest and virtually unclassifiable movie, presented in the Forum section of the 66th Berlinale.
In it, we follow Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), a young 15-year-old boy who does not know who his father is. Vincent lives with his mother, Marie (Natacha Régnier), slap bang in the middle of Paris, a city where great swarms of pedestrians mill around, and even bump into each other as they stare intently at their mobile-phone screens. In front of a large reproduction of Caravaggio’s The Sacrifice of Isaac, we see single mother Marie telling Vincent that he has no father.
In this same city, there is also a strange little world revolving around the publishing business, where Vincent ends up after he finds an unsent letter from his mother with the name Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric) written on it. His father, a cold and mean man, is the great guru of this small publishing industry, and here, Vincent also meets the colourful critic Violette (Maria de Medeiros) and his father’s brother, Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), who will have a much bigger impact on his life than he had expected.
By this point, we have reached the fourth act of the film, entitled “The Carpenter”: in it, we can start to make out the shadow of the nativity, when Joseph meets Marie, with her son being the main motive. As is widely accepted, it was for his son, Jesus, that Joseph became a father, and not the other way around. Green has a blast with the theme of fatherhood, since Vincent’s friend suggests to him to join forces with his company, which sells semen over the internet. The Biblical stories of Abraham and Isaac emphasise this aspect, allowing the US-born French director to regale us with sublime scenes such as those showing the special bond between father and son during a baroque music concert. The family drama that constitutes the backdrop for the movie pales next to the more relaxed tone exuded by its climax as they arrive for Oscar’s party in Normandy, which boasts an unadulterated screwball style, and through the inclusion of a donkey in this Holy Family. It is this irreverent, absurd and intellectualised brand of humour, bristling with metaphors and meaning, that Green clearly masters, as if he were following in the recent footsteps of another highly philosophical French auteur, Bruno Dumont, in search of a result that is as rich as it is unique.
Because of course, we see all of this following Green’s decision to turn his characters into mere instruments, forced to recite their dialogue without any kind of expression, almost as if it were a study on how not to act. True to himself, the director continues to get the most out of his characteristic hieratic style, which is complemented extremely well by a more comical approach, in contrast with his other, more serious films.
(Translated from Spanish)