The Greatest Story Ever, Retold

Eugène Green, NYC, 9/29/14

Eugène Green, NYC, 9/29/14

Divided into five parts, based on passages in the Bible, writer-director Eugène Green’s new film, “Son of Joseph” (2016), like his earlier work, uniquely combines the transcendent and the comic. Green, an American ex-pat, longtime resident of France says, “This association with the Bible is important to me, as is everything that constitutes my culture, and thus my life experience.”

Curly haired and surly, Vincent (talented newcomer Vincent Ezenfis), a Parisian teenager being raised by his lovely (but dowdily dressed) and devoted single mother, Marie (Natacha Régnier), a nurse, deeply feels his lack of a father. He discovers a letter Marie wrote to Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric), a famous publisher, a man she barely knew, when Vincent was born, who rejected her and their child. With his father identified, Vincent’s adventures begin, and while the action is engrossing, it’s Green mise-en-scène that makes the story so affecting.

Tracking Oscar to a tony publishing party, Vincent overhears pretentious art babble, and pretends to be at home with the literati. He later slides into the publisher’s office, located in an upscale hotel. Hiding under a chaise, concealed behind its floor-length fringes, he gets and ear- (and somewhat obstructed) eyeful. On another day, he ambushes Oscar and ties him to a chair, and escapes. Oscar, enraged, is determined to find his assailant and have him punished.

Vincent meets Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione, wonderful, as he was in Green’s “La Sapineza”), unshaven and agitated, in the restaurant in hotel’s lobby, without knowing that he’s Oscar’s brother (and therefore, his uncle), who’s waiting to meet his wealthy sibling, hoping to borrow money to buy the farm where they grew up.

A bond forms between Joseph and Vincent, despite their age difference, as they spend time together walking in the Luxembourg Gardens, visiting the Louvre and discovering a classical singer in a church.

With his anger toward Marie subsiding as his grave need for a father (figure) is somewhat fulfilled, Vincent invites Joseph to dinner at home, secretly playing matchmaker. Marie and Joseph soon meet again, for a movie date (Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert”) and red wine in a cafe.

In the film’s final section (“The Flight to Egypt”), Marie, Joseph and Vincent leave Paris to take a trip to the seaside in Normandy, where Joseph was raised. Shortly after arriving, the three are suddenly the subject of a manhunt,  a case of mistaken/unknown identity, and as they flee the police, becoming a family, of course there’s a donkey for Marie to ride on (her heels, unfit for sand, “are not for a fugitive”).

“Son of Joseph” will open on Friday, January 13 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

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