Elena Lazic writes about Eugene Green’s The Son of Joseph. The film screens this Friday and Saturday as part of our Club Ciné strand, showcasing the best of French Cinema at Picturehouse Central.
Don’t let the religious title deceive you, The Son Of Joseph is Eugène Green’s peculiar brand of cinema at its most accessible and joyous. The film follows Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), a young teenager who sets out to find his father and a suitor for his lonely single mother, Marie (Natacha Régnier).
The humour in the film doesn’t rely solely on amusing transpositions from the story of Jesus to that of a young man living in contemporary Paris. The richly drawn characters also contribute to an overall sense of the surreal and absurd, top of the list being the extravagantly awful, selfish and ridiculously named Oscar Pormenor, Vincent’s real father. A rich and arrogant book publicist, Oscar is played by Mathieu Amalric at his most delightful. That eye-bulging helplessness we have come to expect from the actor is here given the freedom to expand in exciting and funny directions.
Young Vincent must seek out this man who abandoned him and his gentle, innocent mother, and part of the film’s weirdness stems from this concern of a boy for his mother with its almost Freudian overtones. Alone worth the price of admission is a sequence reminiscent of Hal Ashby classic Being There (1979) in which the very young Vincent sneaks into a book launch and mingles with a literary crowd, pretending to be a soon-to-be-published writer. It’s a masterpiece of comic timing and the absurd.
Yet despite this satire on arrogant ‘artists’, The Son Of Joseph remains, like all of Green’s work, born of a sweetness and kindness that is simply quite rare in cinema. Such lightness is achieved by serene cinematography, capturing a patchwork of bright colours with a calm, attentive camera and an amusing brand of surreal elocution from the actors that is entirely Green’s own style: the actors deliver their lines in the most neutral tone of voice possible, making little to no movement.
This style has been compared to that of french filmmaker Robert Bresson. But whereas in Bresson’s work the impersonality evokes a profound crisis of the self and of communication, with Green it is a marker of honesty and faith, put into words. It is telling that all the negative characters – those who hide themselves behind false appearances – perform in a realistic style. The contrast between the two different acting approaches makes the seemingly ‘normal’ characters seem completely over-the-top and restless, ironically highlighting Green’s stilted signature acting as being the more engrossing to watch.
The film, along with Vincent, finds some solace in optimism when a man called Joseph (Green regular Fabrizio Rongione) enters the picture. Gentle and kind, he acts as a true friend to the young man as well as a father figure. Guaranteed to leave you perplexed yet moved, The Son Of Joseph is a peculiar film to call a ‘feelgood movie’ and yet it is that and one of the very best out this Christmas.
Join us at Picturehouse Central at 10pm on Friday 16 December or Saturday 17 December. Book tickets.