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Peter T Chattaway

The Son of Joseph

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Links to our threads on previous Eugene Green films The Portuguese Nun (2009) and La Sapienza (2014).

Boyd van Hoeij @ Hollywood Reporter:

Lighter than most of Green’s other work, with more clearly emphasized scenes of satire and a more playful sense of storytelling, this could very well travel further afield than Green’s more cerebral efforts, even though there’s no sense in any way that the director has compromised his vision to reach a (slightly) broader audience. The fact this was co-produced by the Dardenne brothers can only help. . . .

The Son of Joseph might be filled with talk about and visual allusions to God, Biblical art, life, parenthood, filialness and relationships but the way the material is handled is jocular without betraying the more serious ideas at its core. There’s a reason the two main adult characters are called Joseph and Marie, and Green gently plays around with the expectations of the viewers. Something similar applies to the film’s division in Biblically inspired chapters, with names such as The Sacrifice of Abraham, The Flight to Egypt and The Golden Calf (the latter the feature’s most out-and-out comic setpiece involving a satirical look at the ridiculously self-obsessed publishing world, with a cameo by Maria de Medeiros as a crackpot literary critic). The constant combination of highbrow and lowbrow elements is undeniably French but also very effective. . . .

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Guy Lodge @ Variety:

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. Though it’s still steeped in its maker’s very particular formalities of language and performance, this honey-drizzled, farcically funny fable of an unhappy teenager seeking a father — first the one he has, then the one he deserves — could prove to be Green’s most commercially accessible work, even among arthouse auds not necessarily attuned to its millefeuille layering of theological symbolism. (Its mirthful contemporary remix of the Nativity story, however, surely can’t escape anyone’s notice.) 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.

This is Green’s first team-up with producers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose increasingly catholic arthouse portfolio also includes this year’s Berlin competish title “Hedi.” “Catholic” may indeed be an operative word in this newly forged collaboration: The faith’s very structured principles of morality inform Green’s artifice-driven vision as playfully as they do, to rather more sober effect, the Belgian brothers’ contrastingly social-realist studies in human kindness and weakness. “Le Fils de Joseph” — a title that translates as “Son of Joseph,” about which we can draw our own Christian conclusions — has little time for sermonizing in its religious observations. Indeed, when Raphael O’Byrne’s camera does eventually enter a church, it’s merely to appreciate the finery — and the madrigal music, courtesy of famed ensemble Le Poeme Harmonique, whose reinterpretations of 16th- and 17th-century compositions by Mazzocchi, de’ Cavalieri and Otradovic lend the film on otherworldly lilt from the opening credits onwards. . . .

It’s far from an easy script to play, but Green’s ensemble successfully comes at it from a variety of positions, ranging from Ezenfis’ raw, uninflected sincerity to Amalric’s ever-enjoyable air of tumble-dried loucheness. Between them lies the bright-eyed theatrical clarity of Regnier and Rongione, both previously versed Green collaborators and both entirely wonderful here as the film’s anchors of vulnerable goodness, Marie and Joseph. Their performances spring most vividly to life via Green’s most eccentric distinguishing technique: his exactingly centered, conversationally alternated close-ups, in which the actors — artificially and exquisitely lit on tactile Kodak film by O’Byrne — deliver their lines as if staring through the camera, to a soul-connected listener behind the lens. It remains a divisive trademark that nonetheless provides the film with many of its most moving moments: Even Nenette the donkey, an improbable star of the pic’s fifth act, nails her straight-to-camera gaze.

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MattPage   

Just seen this and still trying to formulate my thoughts. Definitely one to catch if you get a chance. I might add a few thoughts here once I've had a chance to reflect on it, and there will be some stuff on my blog shortly as well I guess.

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MattPage   

I've seen this twice now. As I'm writing a longer piece on it and only have a limited window to watch it I went through and wrote down the dialogue and a  brief description of each shot. Never done that before which was a long and somewhat tedious  exercise which is nevertheless quite an interesting experience.

if anyone would like a copy let me know, preferably via Facebook as I'm not here all that often, or ther's an email address at my blog (link below).

Matt

 

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This is now streaming on Netflix in the US, and y'all should watch it. Definitely an A&F film. My brief Letterboxd impressions:

Quote

Art. Fatherhood. Adolescence. Mystery. God. It's all present in this wonderfully minimalist, subtly Bressonian tale which somewhat parallels the Holy Family, with a few nods to Abraham and Isaac along the way. I can see how some would be totally put off by Green's formal approach, but I found its slow, deliberate pacing and droll performances to be surprisingly affecting. And produced by the Dardennes!

 

On 1/7/2017 at 2:31 PM, MattPage said:

I've seen this twice now. As I'm writing a longer piece on it and only have a limited window to watch it I went through and wrote down the dialogue and a  brief description of each shot. Never done that before which was a long and somewhat tedious  exercise which is nevertheless quite an interesting experience.

Matt, I'd enjoy looking at that, if you still have the document.

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Well, I ended up writing an entire review this morning.

Quote

I imagine many audiences would be put off by Eugène Green’s formal approach. He shoots dialogue sequences with the characters facing the camera directly, looking right into the audience’s eyes (and hearts) as the actors give understated, even stilted performances akin to the films of Robert Bresson. The framing and camera movement are so deliberate as to be conspicuous, the emotions communicated by the audience’s empathy with the circumstances themselves more than performed by the actors or the score. It’s at-once distancing and intimate, invitational though initially perceived as aloof. Green is inviting us to watch, to listen, to slow down and pay attention, just as we would (or should) with any beautiful work of art before us. In one of the opening scenes, two random characters are walking along, riveted by their handheld electronic screens until they collide with one another. We then notice Vincent come into view, center screen, these distracted characters framing his intense gaze into the camera. Green is asking the audience, “Are you giving this your full attention?” His characters visit museums, parks, and churches to view the paintings, sculptures, and architecture, respectively. They quietly survey what’s before them, hardly saying a word. When they do talk, the oration is steady and droll, the actors’ arms akimbo, their posture nearly absent of body language. It doesn’t feel quite human or relatable. The magic and mystery of Green’s approach is that the final tale ends up quite affecting and humane. Its emotional gravitas builds slowly and covertly until you’re in its grasp without ever realizing you’ve been overcome.

 

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