The Son of Joseph

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - The Sac­ri­fice of Isaac,

The wall above Vin­cent’s bed is dom­i­nated by a print of Car­avag­gio’s

which shows the bearded pa­tri­arch Abra­ham pin­ning the head of his scream­ing son to a rock and bran­dish­ing a sharp knife at his throat as an an­gel in­ter­venes to stay his hand. Is it any won­der the lad is a lit­tle strange?

Strange is the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of this fea­ture by the Amer­i­can ex­pa­tri­ate Eugène Green, a Brook­lynite who em­i­grated to Paris al­most 50 years ago, and stayed. He added an ac­cent grave to his name, be­came fas­ci­nated with Baroque drama, and founded a the­ater com­pany to pro­duce the works of po­etic drama­tists like Racine in their orig­i­nal declam­a­tory style. Why is this rel­e­vant? Be­cause this movie, which can best be de­scribed as a trance­like Chris­tian al­le­gor­i­cal farce, is per­formed with that same stilted, declam­a­tory 17th-cen­tury-in­flu­enced de­liv­ery.

His ac­tors face one an­other or face the cam­era and speak their lines with lit­tle nat­u­ral in­flec­tion. They move slowly and pose in tableaux. For a while it’s per­plex­ing. But af­ter a pe­riod of ap­pren­tice­ship, it be­gins to take on a sub­ver­sively funny qual­ity, and to make an odd kind of sense.

Green (who ap­pears in a cameo as a wild-haired ho­tel concierge) didn’t start mak­ing movies till he was past fifty. And he’s been com­pared to Robert Bres­son, which isn’t bad com­pany.

The movie un­folds in bib­li­cally themed chap­ters: The Sac­ri­fice of Abra­ham, The Flight Into Egypt. Vin­cent (Vic­tor Ezen­fis) is a teenage boy be­ing raised by a sin­gle mother, Marie (Natacha Rég­nier), who re­buffs his at­tempts to learn who his fa­ther is. On the whole he’s a good, if un­happy, kid. He doesn’t join his school­mates in the tor­ture of a rat, and he turns down a friend’s of­fer to join as a part­ner in his on­line spermsup­ply busi­ness.

One day he breaks into his mother’s desk and finds that he’s the son of Os­car Por­menor (Mathieu Amal­ric), a big shot in the pub­lish­ing world. He tracks the man down and dis­cov­ers him to be an ego­tis­ti­cal mar­ried cad who is boff­ing his sec­re­tary and can’t re­mem­ber how many chil­dren he has (“De­tails bore me,” he says).

Os­car has a brother, Joseph (Fabrizio Ron­gione), a kindly ne’er-dow­ell. Vin­cent meets him by chance, not know­ing who his brother is, and they de­velop a bond. Joseph’s fa­therly kind­ness draws Vin­cent out of his shell. He be­gins to smile. He be­gins to make plans. He ar­ranges a sly fix-up of Joseph with his mother, Marie, and the Na­tiv­ity al­lu­sions just keep on com­ing. This is a movie about father­hood, and the in­fer­ence is that nur­ture is more im­por­tant than na­ture, and that there are bet­ter tem­plates for the po­si­tion than Abra­ham, or Os­car. Or the sperm bank. — Jonathan Richards

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