Sunday, January 8, 2017

Eugène Green is back -- with his oddball, beautiful, quasi-Biblical THE SON OF JOSEPH

I've seen only two of the films of American-born French filmmaker Eugène Green -- 2014's La Sapienza and his newest work, THE SON OF JOSEPH -- but these are enough to have earned M. Green, pictured below, a place in TrustMovies' canon: that of a a very special and specialized filmmaker whose work will have limited appeal. Less so even than, say, Eric Rohmer. But for those to whom it will appeal, his movies should have enormous resonance.

The Wikipedia listing for this filmmaker is short and concise, explaining that he is noted for "training a generation of young actors in the revival of French baroque theatre technique and declamation."

When I read this, it suddenly hit me like a blast of fresh air. This is why watching and listening to Green's movies puts me so in mind of classical French playwrights like Racine and Marivaux -- yet in a modern-day context. His characters declaim, all right. But they do this so quietly and well that they almost (but not quite) convince us of their "reality." Yet reality is not the primary thing that M. Green is going for, I suspect. He is happy to attempt something more "theatrical" and perhaps old-fashioned that will nonetheless force us to stop, question, and consider things anew. And he manages this -- in spades. But at a price that simply rules out anything like a mainstream audience. Even the arthouse crowd may champ at the bit. So be it. The filmmaker goes his own way but achieves just what he wants.

Green's style combines elegance and formality with theatricality and grace. I can't think of anyone else who manages all this in anything like the same way. He has a keen interest in architecture, beauty and formal gardens; in philosophy, religion and in doing the right thing for the right reason. He's a moralist, and he uses his arsenal to help us consider being moral, too.

While La Sapienza dealt with love from a more moral/psychological viewpoint, The Son of Joseph deals with it from a moral/religious one. Faux Biblical scenes abound -- from Abraham's would-be sacrifice of Isaac (here reversed so that it is the son who very nearly kills the father) to Mary and Joseph's journey via ass. One lengthy scene takes place in a glorious church (above) where a poem is read and a song sung.

The story told is of a mother-son family in which the father (more odd-but-on-the-nose work by Mathieu Amalric) never took part past the impregnation stage. That son (a fresh and compelling performance by Victor Ezenfis, below, right), determined to learn who that father is, rejects a school friend's request that he help provide semen for an on-line business venture to go instead on his search for dad. Fathering, it seems, must result in more than mere sperm donation.

Finding his father results in also discovering a faux father (an exceptional job from Fabrizio Rongione, above, left, of La Sapienza and Two Days, One Night), the brother of the real father who proves to be everything that dad is not. The mother here is given a beautifully rounded, graceful character by Natacha Régnier (below). Green's cast proves more than capable of handling the declamation well, while the filmmaker's use of closeup brings to fine life the important moments we need to experience.

Duality is heavily present in both "Sapienza" and "Joseph," and the manner in which Green plays with this is often charming and funny. Coupled to the beauty and elegance that the filmmaker finds both indoors and out, all this makes for a pretty heady experience for those so inclined. (That's M. Green, below, left, playing a helpful hotel concierge.)

The Son of Joseph, distributed in the USA by Kino Lorber, opens this Friday, January 13, at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Elsewhere? Yes, the film is so far booked in another six cities over the weeks to come. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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