‘Son of Joseph’ – Eugene Green’s Epiphany

Seeking a Father and Some Wise Men

Son of Joseph (Le fils de Joseph)

Dir. Eugene Green, France, 2016, 110 minutes  (Kino Lorber)

At the risk of sounding like the late Paul Wunder, the quote whore of WBAI (may he rest in peace in the heaven of movie swag), I am already naming one of the best films of the year, Son of Joseph by Eugene Green, a witty and wise story of a boy’s search for his father. Green’s film  premiered a year ago at the Berlin International Film Festival. No matter. See it now.

Son of Joseph, set in contemporary Paris, unfolds in the French of the 18h century. Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), a clever enterprising teenager, lives with his mother. He’s trying to find out who his father is, and he does, to his chagrin.

A Teenager's Search Becomes a Literary Odyssey

A Teenager’s Search Becomes a Literary Odyssey

It is a noted publisher in Paris – a job that’s as anachronistic as the language of this film – and Matthieu Amalric plays that role with all the pomposity and self-involvement that you might expect. Vincent needs to look elsewhere for a paternal figure, not just for himself, but for his single mother. This leads him on another quest, which I won’t give away.

Thrown Sideways by His Real Father, an Intellectual Celebrity

Thrown Sideways by His Real Father, an Intellectual Celebrity

And Son of Joseph, while sheer pleasure, isn’t just about plot. It’s about language and the pleasure of writing and speech, about plans for creating a sperm bank where Vincent can employ his friends, and about locating the symbolism of the New Testament in Paris today. The Dardenne brothers are producers.  

Eugene Green Gets His Extended Hitchcock Moment as a Hotel Clerk

Eugene Green Gets His Extended Hitchcock Moment as a Hotel Clerk

If you speak French, and you can slow down your expectations of how films reveal themselves, this is a film for you. If you don’t speak French, this is another reason to learn.

Bear in mind that Eugene Green’s French is just that, learned. Green, born in Brooklyn, has adopted France and its language. It’s close enough to the Christmas season to reconnect with the Holy Family.

Did the future of French film, or at least part of it, come out of Brooklyn? Let’s hope so.

Coming soon on Outtakes is an interview with Eugene Green.


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