• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Sunday, November 24, 2019

    Testament: Joseph (1996)

    As with several of the other entries in the Testament: Bible in Animation series, Joseph is made using the same Russian animation method that was the predominant style in The Miracle Maker (2000). However, whereas The Miracle Maker complemented its use of puppets with hand-drawn animation to represent psychological states of mind such as dreams, here the dreams of Joseph, his fellow prisoners and his pharaoh are merely reported rather than depicted. This preference for a more realist  approach is bold: it prioritises the story's original emphasis on its complex relationships, and Joseph's unlikely rise to power. However, within a decade The Prince of Egypt (1998) and its Joseph prequel Joseph: King of Dreams (2000) as well as The Miracle Maker produced such impressive, spectacular and acclaimed out of dream material that this film does rather suffer by comparison.

    The story's economy is clear from the start - Joseph is about to be thrown into the well, and the characters dialogue naturally summarises the events that have already transpired. Joseph is sold to Potiphar, then refuses his wife and finds himself in jail. The filmmakers draw various visual parallels between well and prison, but Joseph's desperation is short lived: when he correctly interprets Pharaoh's dream he gets assigned the task of saving the country. Joseph again prospers and is eventually able to be reunited with his brothers and, more importantly, his father.

    The expressive nature of the Russian animation really draw out the story's pathos, and makes this version a far more emotionally impacting portrayal of these events than either other animated efforts or even the various acted versions. I think the brevity of this portrayal helps in this respect, as well as the graceful yet sad movements and wide-eyed expressions on the puppets faces. The spectacular nature of Joseph's rise is really only apparent in the one scene (pictured above) when Joseph is first brought before Pharaoh. As much as I appreciate that moment, I can't help but feel that the filmmakers decision to opt for a simpler, more earthy, approach is justified by its ultimately more moving results.

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