The Biblical story of Joseph, who was sold to slavery by his brothers who were jealous of his prophetic abilities to analyze dreams and of his being their fathers' favorite. Written by
They throw him into a well and sell him into slavery; yet, he makes them rich masters and forgives them all the misery and hatred... that would be called 'simpleton's naiveness' in a world where luck takes over all respected values and where power reigns over goodness. Many people would mock such naiveness nowadays and throughout history when a strong hand has been far more appreciated than a good heart. Is there still anything that can persuade us to believe in 'subtle reign of goodness' 'subtle reign of heart'?
Yes! That is the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis, the story of a young boy sold into slavery by his envious brothers who overcomes particular hardship and injustice in order to be placed one day over the Pharaoh's house, his people and his entire kingdom, in order to become "Zapaneth Paneah" a 'saviour' for Egypt and all surrounding lands; finally, in order to embrace his brothers in tears of pardoning.
Although the story of Joseph was, for a long time, quite neglected in cinema, the new biblical project in the 1990s could not skip this significant tale after ABRAHAM with Richard Harris and JACOB with Matthew Modine. I was quite skeptical about this movie in the mid-1990s taking into consideration some critics' opinions. The director, Roger Young, is known for taking liberties with historical content and, as he was not known in my country at that time, some critics spread negative viewpoints about the production before its TV premiere in Poland. Nevertheless, what we saw during the 1996 Easter time was far beyond our expectations. Again, critics disappointed us terribly...
The entire movie is faithful to the Bible to such extend that there are hardly any changes, even minor ones, which makes it one of the most accurate productions ever. Yet, it is not a sort of sheer continuous narrative in accordance with the Bible but a very innovative execution of the captivating, mesmerizing content. The story in most part of the film's first half is told 'in media res.' We get the insight into an Egyptian slave market and a slave boy of Canaan who opens his mouth only in prayer bought by a rich master Potiphar (Ben Kingsley). Although things begin to improve for both, a woman steps in... Joseph (Paul Mercurio) tells his dramatic story to his master just after the unfair accusations have been made up by Potiphar's wife (Lesley Ann Warren) and... everything gets so vivid, combined with emotions and personal suggestions. Thanks to that, Potiphar is more aware of Joseph's innocence. In a memorable scene, his wife asks him sarcastically: "What is more important to you? His God or my good name?" his thrilling answer sounds "Truth" ... At the same time, Joseph shouts desperately "Lord, my God why have you forsaken me?" Events to come truly prove that his God was with him...
However, besides the story that has overwhelmed lots of different people for centuries, "Joseph" offers much more. When the story itself does not suffice for many (that is the case with all biblical material) what we want, as viewers, is something that will remain in our memories, that will leave us breathless, something awesome within the perfectly familiar walls of our knowledge and experience. Something like that may be provided only by certain artistic merits. "Joseph" as a movie offers us all of them including lovely cinematography, memorable sets and very good camera work. While watching the movie for the second time, I paid particular attention to camera work, to single images and I was mesmerized by some moments which are both symbolically and visually significant.
The cast... Paul Mercurio in the lead portrays a man of integrity, a man of forgiveness, a man who has truly seen the evils of rape and vengeance and, consequently, appears to be "endowed with a spirit of God" as poetically described in the script, or, more realistically, very reliable to all the people around, even to such greatness itself like the Pharaoh himself. He is boyish for women, upright for masters, gentle for brothers and faithful to his values. All these unique features of Joseph are beautifully portrayed by Paul Mercurio. The supporting cast include great stars of cinema as well as unknown actors who do equally fine jobs in their roles. Ben Kingsley as Potiphar focuses on patience, Martin Landau as Jacob emphasizes father's love, Stefano Dionisi as Pharaoh highlights confusion of a ruler and Vincenzo Nicoli as, perhaps, Joseph's most wicked brother, Simeon, stresses integral aspect of jealousy and hatred. A mention must be made of beautiful Monica Bellucci as Pharaoh's wife. But a nice contrast is highlighted by two women: Valeria Cavalli as Asenath: a subtle, beautiful woman pleasing to Joseph and Lesley Ann Warren as wicked, lustful and cruel Potiphar's wife.
In short, for me, Joseph has been a biblical experience on screen, a movie that touched me to tears, a motion picture that addressed my heart. Whenever I am depressed, sad or tired of earthly vanity, it is one of the films that takes me into a consoling reality. Timeless story of a gentle heart that brings all worldly revenge, cruelty and jealousy to their knees, which never stops saying "Forgiveness is greater than vengeance; compassion more powerful than anger"
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