The Son of Joseph (3 stars)

The Son of Joseph

Biblical references abound in this typically idiosyncratic offering from Eugène Green

The films of Eugène Green (La Sapienza, The Portuguese Nun) are very much an acquired taste. There is a starchy formality to his direction and a disconcerting artificiality to characters who never seem to speak like real people. In more conventional hands, The Son of Joseph (Le fils de Joseph) could have been a typically freewheeling French farce, complete with errant husbands, flirtatious secretaries and a climactic police chase. In Green's hands it becomes an oddly beguiling mixture of fragile emotional connections and fractured families, wrapped up in endless Biblical references. There are also some droll stabs at the pretentiousness of the literary world, with a cameo for Maria de Medeiros as a loopy critic.

Victor Ezenfis stars as Vincent, an angry, rebellious teenager desperate to know the identity of a father that his mother Marie (Natacha Régnier) has steadfastly refused to name. When Vincent discovers that the guilty party is arrogant, egotistical publisher Oscar (an imperious Mathieu Amalric) he plots his revenge but is distracted by a growing friendship with Oscar's brother (and prodigal son) Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione) who would make a far more acceptable father figure.

Unfolding in chapter headings like 'The Sacrifice of Isaac' and 'The Flight into Egypt', The Son of Joseph is steeped in religious art (Caravaggio, Philippe de Champaigne's 'The Dead Christ', 'Joseph the Carpenter' by Georges de La Tour) and Biblical inspirations – there is even an ass to transport the weary Marie at one point. Amusing, astringent and absurdist, the film has echoes of Luis Buñuel and Alain Resnais as it makes comic capital from a serious, soulful consideration of family ties and the complex connections between fathers and sons. In the end, for all his theatricality and idiosyncrasy, Green manages to convince you that there is method in his madness.

Limited release from Fri 16 Dec.

The Son of Joseph

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • 1h 53min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Eugène Green
  • Written by: Eugène Green
  • Cast: Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Régnier, Fabrizio Rongione, Mathieu Amalric
  • UK release: 16 December 2016

Vincent (Ezenfis) is an angry teenager desperate to know the identity of his father, because his mother Marie (Régnier) won’t tell him. An oddly beguiling mixture of fragile emotional connections wrapped up in endless Biblical references; amusing, astringent and absurdist.