Reviewed by: Jane Fae

"What does happen is likely nothing at all like what you expected to happen." | Photo: Clementine Movie LLC

Oh! I am a bad person! And a disgraceful reviewer to boot! Still, there are some films that are difficult – nay! Impossible – to watch without flashbacks to an episode of Seventies comedy trio, the Goodies, wherein the Goodies 'did movies'.

One of the films subject to their parody treatment was Death In Bognor - a swipe at Visconti's film of very similar name – in which an old codger shuffles slowly along an empty beach for an hour or two. At which point, Bill Oddie, desperate for something – anything! - to happen, intervenes. Heckles, including "Why are we waiting?!" and "Come on you blighter, die! C'mon, die!" are finally rewarded when the old man takes a death dive and sprawls flat on the sand.

Watching the first hour/two thirds or so of Clementine, I was very much reminded of that trope. Please! Let something happen! Anything! Though in this case, and given that this film is broadly promoted as an exploration of the boundary between woman to woman friendship, and love – I'd expect the heckles to be more along the lines of “for God's sake kiss her!”. Or: “take her to bed: you know you want to!”

Unfair? Well, the problem with Clementine is: you have to wait a very long time for anything to happen and then when at last it does, everything happens at once. And what does happen is likely nothing at all like what you expected to happen.

As set-up we begin with Karen (Otmara Marrero) being dropped by older lover, D (Sonya Walger). So naturally, Karen does as anyone on the rebound from a lesbian relationship and...turns up at D's lakeside cabin, breaks in, and proceeds to squat for some unspecified time. She's drifting: flailing around for something to give her life shape and meaning.

And this she finds, for a brief interlude, in Lana (Sydney Sweeney) a young teenage ingénue with aspirations to a career in Hollywood. Or has she? Because nothing and no-one is quite what they seem. Not Beau (Will Brittain), the local handyman, tasked with keeping an eye on D's cabin. Not Tommy, Lana's sleazy boyfriend. And especially not Lana.

The film does its exploration of boundaries very well, though those of a less patient disposition may well have given up long before it reaches its climax, which is pretty much on message as side-thought. Because what with all those intimate close-up looks and the thigh-shuffling and outright flirting between Karen and Lana, this film shades at times into soft erotica. Except erotica whose climax, one of those elusive almost-almost-almost moments, never quite comes.

Not for nothing does Karen observe, explaining the process of art to Lana, that the key to understanding a picture is not the outcome but the process by which one arrives.

Besides, the end point is very different indeed. Ironically, it echoes themes present in – you've guessed it! - Death In Venice. For there, a much older man falls obsessively in love with a younger one. And this question, of age and youth and the ways in which the first exploits the second hangs over all of the last third of Clementine.

D's relationship with Karen, we gradually discover, is pretty toxic. Controlling. This, for instance, from a woman allegedly now the ex: “I like to know where you are and what you are doing at all times”. And thus, Karen's relationship with Lana: will it, won't it take the same path?

As others have commented, with both direction and script supplied by the same individual – Lara Gallagher – it is at least valid to wonder if the film, which is both intense and intensely personal, reflects some episode, some aspect of Gallagher's life. And lo: in an interview for the Sunflower, she has this to say of the film:

“The story itself came from a personal place from when I was in a relationship with an older and more successful woman. We’ve seen this (on screen) with a lot between men and women, but not with women. Queer characters on film is relatively newer….showing the nuances of that is less seen.”

Hat tip to the music, including an earworm of a track, Antonia Jane by Canadian indie rock band, Lightning Dust.

Reviewed on: 05 May 2020
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Clementine packshot
Reeling from a one-sided break-up, heartbroken Karen breaks into her ex’s lakehouse. There, she strikes up a complicated relationship with provocative younger woman Lana.
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Director: Lara Jean Gallagher

Writer: Lara Jean Gallagher

Starring: Otmara Marrero, Sydney Sweeney, Will Brittain, Sonya Walger.

Year: 2019

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US

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