A Modern Take on Classic Stories of Fatherhood
By Alex França (Talent Press Rio)
At first, Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph, 2016), directed by Eugène Green appeared to be yet another story about a boy in search of his father. In the first scenes, for example, Vincent (played by Victor Ezenfis) comes across a café called Father and Son. At times the boy plies his mother with questions about who his father might be.
But the film aims to explore different options for fatherhood. We have Vincent’s mother, Marie (Natacha Régnier), who is raising her son on her own; Oscar (Mathieu Amalric), an editor who is assumed to be Vincent’s biological father but who is not close with his other children; Joseph (Fabrizion Rongione), Oscar’s brother, who unexpectedly takes the boy in.
The plot is essentially an interpretation of the bible stories of the sacrifice faced by Isaac, son of Abraham (depicted in the Caravaggio painting, a reproduction of which hangs on the wall of Vincent’s room), and of Joseph, who took responsibility for raising Mary’s son.
The characters Vincent, Oscar and Joseph each represent a different perspective on fatherhood. For Vincent, a father is the one who will save him from the “strange” he is going through. Oscar denies any possibility of being a father, despite his three legitimate children. It is thanks to Joseph that Vincent, a typical rebellious teenager who behaves aggressively and speaks rashly, especially with his mother, gradually becomes calmer and more extroverted.
At several points in the film the characters look straight into the camera in an attempt to establish a closer relationship with the audience. The dialogue is frequently dry and terse, and the limited interaction between characters creates a sense of physical and emotional distance. There are many shots in which the camera spends several seconds focused on spaces and objects, in near total silence. These are the strategies used in developing the narrative make give Son of Joseph more original than others that explore the same topic.