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The Son of Joseph

You could argue that the films of French director Eugène Green are a vacuum of emotion. He instructs his actors to intone lines directly to camera. The dialogue is slow and mannered, every syllable is roundly enunciated. Characters in his films don’t really talk to one another, they communicate in the way robots or computers might. And yet, for all the effort he takes to expunge anything that might be described as realism, his films exert a strange narcotic grip. By scraping back artificial emotion, you’re left with something very pure. His new film, The Son of Joseph, recounts the nativity in modern day Paris, reframing the immaculate conception as a single mother whose partner left her because she chose not to abort their child. Troubled schoolboy Vincent (Victor Ezenfis) is that child, discovering his true nature and vowing vengeance on his estranged, neglectful father, Oscar (Mathieu Amalric). But, his plan takes a turn for the bizarre when he bumps into Oscar’s amiable brother, Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), and the pair become fast friends. Having to stick to this fanciful conceit does dampen some of the impulsive, transcendent qualities seen in Green’s most exemplary work such as 2004’s Le Pont des Arts and 2009’s The Portuguese Nun. Plus, the occasional cut-aways to paintings and music (a baroque church concert) feel like stock directorial tics rather than necessities for this story. But the film does manage to catch you off guard, mixing absurdism and sincerity, comedy and tragedy, the realistic and the surreal, the modern and the classical and, finally, pulsing emotion and brittle formalism. The Son of Joseph actually makes for the perfect entry point for brave travellers looking to explore the wonderful world of this singular director....