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
It's no secret of Hollywood that if you hire a group of talented actors and actresses, stress high quality storytelling over special effects, and choose diverse but realistic settings, then you're likely to create a great film.
This is not Webber's "Technicolor" musical or the Dreamworks animated version of Joseph. Nor is it an epic-scaled romance such as DeMille's "The Ten Commandments". Its accuracy pays homage to the text of Genesis and it is full of drama, bitterness, provocative character, and spiritual development. This is the "Joseph" movie that an older audience can enjoy and appreciate while youngsters may learn something new. (Parents may still want to omit the seduction scene for their children.) The film is long enough to flesh out the complexities of Joseph's background without taking away from the protagonist's ongoing journey. There is underlying tension and rivalry felt in Jacob's family of four wives and 12 sons. As told by Joseph through flashbacks, cataclysmic events began when his sister was raped in Shechem. Vengeance becomes a powerful motif in the film when Simeon and Levi wipe out Shechem as punishment. Other examples follow. The brothers despise Joseph's superior piety and sell him. Potiphar's wife seeks to destroy Joseph after he refuses to lie with her. Joseph contemplates punishing his brothers when they come to Egypt. It is vengeance that tests humanity in "Joseph" until the final scene.
Since my high school class covered the story of Joseph in depth with the assistance of Torah commentaries, I appreciate the remarkable precision in the film from a Jewish perspective. Some lesser-known actions and events include Joseph's meeting with a "man", his title as "Tzapaneth Paneah", the brothers return to Egypt with gifts, Benjamin's name change upon his mother's deathbed, and Judah's scandal with his daughter-in-law.
The parallelism between Joseph and Judah's stories in the second half of the film is interesting. Both men have been separated from their family and fallen from grace: Joseph is wrongly imprisoned in Egypt while Judah has left his father's encampment. Judah's difficult story with Tamar is a notable act of honesty. Watching him confess his erred judgment to her before crying to himself is an echo of Joseph's anguished cry to G-d in jail. Whereas Reuben, Simeon, and Levi have lost their father's approval, Judah takes responsibility for his actions and redeems himself as the leader of 10 brothers.
The casting is well-credited with Ben Kingsley (superb as ever) as Potiphar. Paul Mercurio has removed the shoes of an eccentric lively dancer in "Strictly Ballroom" and transformed himself into a striking impression of Joseph. One can see the strained torment on his face when he is sold to Potiphar and must endure the tauntings of the foreman and resist the temptations of Potiphar's nefarious wife. Mercurio carries his role throughout the film with grace and determination. I almost laughed aloud at Pharaoh's mannerisms in the courtroom. The most powerful ruler in Egypt is really pompous, arrogant, superstitious, and perhaps more than just a little scared of this G-d-fearing Semite.
Last of all, the stirring music is suited to the mood of every different scene and the Moroccan landscape is beautiful on screen. All of these admirable qualities are what makes "Joseph" such a praiseworthy film. It is an underestimated masterpiece of one of the Bible's most well known and unforgettable stories. Whether others are watching this film for educational, spiritual, or personal reasons, I hope they enjoy it as much as I did.
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