Thursday, October 12, 2023

THE BOOK OF CLARENCE* - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Day 9

AD 33; Jerusalem. The apostle Thomas has a twin brother called Clarence who believes in knowledge, not faith, sells weed, and is deeply in debt to the local gangster. In yet another cockamamie scheme, Clarence thinks he will become an apostle too, to gain their protection, but they soon see through his schemes, with Thomas pouring scorn upon him. So Clarence decides to become a "new" messiah, replicating Jesus' "tricks" and raising the money from his believers to pay off his debts. Problem is, this newfound praise and money affords Clarence the opportunity to do something even more radical: to be good.  

Jeymes Samuel (THE HARDER THEY FALL) may well be the most frustrating writer-director currently working. I had hoped his sophomore film, THE BOOK OF CLARENCE, would exhibit more tonal consistency and discipline than his debut feature, but my word this film is just as indulgent.  All of which is disappointing because Samuel is clearly highly cine-literate, with a penchant for the excesses of spaghetti westerns and biblical epics.  He clearly has a good imagination and no shortage of big ideas.  But this film is neither consistently funny, nor ideologically radical.  I was hoping for something funny and zany and gonzo - something approaching the dangerous dark satire of THE LIFE OF BRIAN. Instead, I got a film that was surprisingly straightforwardly pro-religion.  What’s even worse is that in its serious moments, in the final half hour, we get some actually rather earnest and good acting from LaKeith Stanfield and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. But all of that is wasted when Jeymes Samuel can’t help inserting cheap gags. Dear lord this man needs a good producer, or editor, or mentor or something.  Something to pin him down and get the best out of him.

THE BOOK OF CLARENCE has a running time of 136 minutes. It played London 2023 and will be released in the USA on January 12th.


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