The Son of Joseph (2017)

Viewed March 23

A young man discovers that the father he never knew is everything he detests and instead ends up befriending another, more cultured man whom he later learns is his uncle. 

There's something stilted about the performances in a Eugene Green film; the actors seem to be speaking in a formal language, as if they're addressing the audience rather than one another. Indeed, he often frames the actors in the middle of the frame and directs them to look into the lens, so that they are speaking their words to us, the viewers. And the scenes don't flow into one another through the impetus of a plot, but are constructed in a way that the architecture of the plot becomes apparent. At first, this all feels alienating, but it gradually develops into its own rhythm and becomes, instead, absorbing. In one scene in The Son of Joseph, for instance, two of the protagonists are completely mesmerized by a Baroque theater production in a church and the viewer may be surprised to catch themselves in a similar state. But for those of us open to entering this world, what do we find inside? Well, one of the primary things happening here is a conservative call to resist the commercial, secular culture of "bobo" liberalism and, instead, embrace the deepness and beauty of the world, the possibility that God is, in fact, present in our lives. You can imagine Green privately fantasizing that his young protagonist Vincent emerging as some sort of cultural icon among thoughtful young Europeans. Fair enough. I could find see myself interested in something like that; unfortunately, though, in practice this whole conservative world comes across as lame and unappealing. It's a very similar effect to Whit Stillman's films. Only the worst, most clueless people would see this and say, "Yes, this is my thing." By the end of it, I had little interest in spending any more time with Joseph, Mary, and Vincent. The asshole brother and his sexpot secretary at their elitist book launch parties seem more engaging, to be honest. Green's previous film, Sapience, explored similar themes (in particular, the lost notion of "sapience"--wisdom and discernment of taste--in culture), but, because it was all more idiosyncratic, didn't come across as grating and smug. Still, though, I remain very interested in Green's admittedly brave path through the film world and will gladly make a point of seeing his next project, even if I continue to roll my eyes.