Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey. Cineworld, 8.50pm ****

Such are the vagaries of film distribution that we get to see this 2011 production by Richard Linklater a few weeks after his latest film, Before Midnight, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

A black comedy disguised as a mock documentary, the film is almost as peculiar as the same director’s Waking Life. Offering a career-best performance, Jack Black stars as a popular mortician in the small town of Carthage, Texas who befriends a fearsome widow played by Shirley MacLaine. The grand dame doesn’t say much, but her icy gaze and permanent reptilian frown suggest concealed depths of simmering malignity.

It would be an overstatement to say that Black is a revelation. He’s delivered grown-up performances in the past. But Linklater has found something quite fresh (and fetid for that matter) to do with his child-man. The townspeople are devoted to the odd fellow and, when something truly ghastly happens, that devotion doesn’t much falter.

Bernie is based on a true story and some of the talking heads are genuine citizens of Carthage. Mixing these honest folk with convincing fakes, Linklater constructs a hybrid that has few models in recent cinema.

Bernie is a puzzle picture but, funny throughout, it never seems in the least forbidding.

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