I've discussed this film briefly on two occasions online, (here and here), though I am yet to give it the full treatment. Jamie S. Rich has written a good piece on both the film, and the DVD presentation at DVD talk, which looks at the film more in the context of Godard's other work, than that of other films covering similar material. It's well worth reading the whole piece, but here are a couple of pieces that I thought were worth quoting:
Eventually, Joseph comes to trust what Mary is telling him, but not before he whines a lot about not getting any loving. He's not the most compassionate person that could have been charged with the paternity of the Christ child.I have two comments on this review. Firstly the character of Joseph is one of the more interesting of the film. Matthew's gospel simply calls Joseph righteous, although notes how it was only God's intervention that prevented him from calling off the marriage (1:19). It's a vague term in this context, but the text suggests that it was actually because he was a "righteous" man that he wanted to call the marriage off. I guess that some would see the Joseph of the film as incompatible with this "righteous" Joseph. However, Godard's re-contextualising emphasises how both Josephs, prior to their own revelations, are torn between acceptable social norms, and their relationship with Mary. Joseph of Nazareth was righteous, but in a culture where that was the expected norm, even if it led to divorcing your wife for her impropriety. Godard's Joseph is lustful and irresponsible, in a culture where that is acceptable - encouraged even - and here it is propriety that is considered grounds for breaking up a relationship. So the way Godard plays this one is as much a comment on the differences between the two societies, as it is a comment on Joseph himself.
Yet, the professor's lectures tie in with Mary's quandary, a variation on the chicken or egg conundrum: does the soul exist to animate the body, or does the body exist to house the soul? Her body is what she feels is under assault. It's what Joseph wants to get his hands on, it's what God has used to plant his seed. Her soul is ultimately her own, and it's tied directly to her virtue. The greatest pain the Supreme Being has caused her is making people doubt that she has maintained self-control, that she hasn't given her soul over to lust. Despite the anger this causes her, Mary perseveres.
In the end, though, it's hard for Mary to tell if the price she has paid was worth it. Her son Jésus (Malachi Jara Kohan) has turned out to be a brat, and her husband has gone from adolescent sex fiend to resentful father.
Secondly, I don't recall thinking that the Jesus of the film was "a brat". Sure he is headstrong and confident, but then he is meant to be God made flesh. One scene that Rich may be thinking of is the one where he gathers a few followers and proceeds to change their names. I tend to think this is more Godard's joke than a serious comment.
Finally, I find the packaging for this DVD rather strange as the front cover is emblazoned, not with the comment of some film critic praising it, but, with a comment from Pope John Paul 2 saying how hurtful and offensive it is to people. This seems a rather strange move. Whilst many films have used their controversy to improve their marketability, this is usually done by suggesting the film is in some way heroic as if it is fighting censorial injustice or something. I can't think of another case where the marketing does this by gleefully wallowing in the hurt the film caused.