Just in time for the Christian holiday of Easter Ster Kinekor South Africa is releasing the film Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth and Cliff Curtis.
Risen, as you might have guessed, tells the biblical story of Jesus of Nazareth who died and inexplicably rose to life again, confounding the Jewish and Roman authorities in attendance at the time. Rather than a story about Jesus or Yeshua, though, Risen is the tale of one man’s response to Jesus: that of the Roman Tribune, Clavius (Fiennes).
The film actually opens with Clavius presiding over his men quelling a small rebellion in the dusty land of Israel. Viewers get to see Roman battle tactics first hand; quite clever I thought, the way the soldiers advanced on the enemy using their shields. Bloody and battle worn, Clavius returns to headquarters only to be immediately summoned by Pilate who has a problem. Pilate has had to crucify a troublesome Jew at the insistence of the Jewish Sanhedrin and he asks Clavius to oversee proceedings to their conclusion. Clavius does so with characteristic efficiency. But when Jesus’ body is buried in a tomb, unlike other crucified victims who are simply turfed into an open common grave, complications arise. The body mysteriously disappears and Clavius is called upon to trace it, thereby keeping the peace and pacifying the Roman authorities.
The Tribune’s search leads him on an unexpected journey, a journey that ends in a faith that is quite at odds with his military ways. I thought the film’s focus on Clavius’s journey to belief presented both the movie’s strengths and its weaknesses. It shows an interesting and very human way of looking at the renowned story of Jesus, and Clavius’s growing faith in Yeshua is well-captured in the symbolic shedding of his soldier’s clothing, until the Roman is dressed just in a simple tunic and sandals. But the singular focus on the soldier’s psychological state also slows down the action making the film lose some impetus.
Risen is nevertheless a refreshingly personal, plausible view of the Jesus narrative. It opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 18 March.