Directed by Pablo Larrain
Not a bad year for Mr. Larrain. His first feature of 2016, “Neruda” (which I reviewed here), was a brilliant historical cat-and-mouse thriller. Examining how the personal and political co-exist (or don’t), “Neruda” is meaningful, passionate, expertly acted and irreverent. “Jackie” is all that minus any semblance of irreverence. In fact, it could not be more serious in its POV. Nor more successfully engaging.
With a brilliant script and lightning fast pacing, the film tells the story of the days and moments after the assassination of JFK through the eyes of the First Lady. And as the lights came up, my friend asked how or why the story had never been told from this perspective in a film prior to now. It’s an excellent question, since the story is so relevant, important and overdue. I think the simple answer (other than that cinema is finally giving more credence to a women’s perspective of historical events) is that it needed someone from a different country to make it…someone whose idea of the JFK mythology is not colored by high school history books, thousands of viewings of the Zapruder film, Seinfeld references and Oliver Stone conspiracy theories. The movie stays about as far away from pedagogue as possible…maintaining a reverence for that First Couple, while positing no theories, conspiracy or otherwise, about the event at all. Instead, Larrain prefers to show us the duality of early onset post-traumatic stress and a premeditated message control.
It’s an impossible balancing act, made possible by a BRILLIANT performance. Natalie Portman portrays Jackie with deep humanity, reverence, intelligence and empathy. And, yet, through it all, maintains the necessary distance engendered in her mythos…not unlike the valley separating a royalt from its subjects. As such, we are forced to watch as if from behind a velvet rope, while, somehow, maintaining a deep emotional connection. It’s shockingly effective. Come the onset of award ceremonies, she’s absolutely in the statuette-winning discussion with Viola Davis’ performance in “Fences”.
In addition to the work of Ms. Portman, the effectiveness of the film is aided by the sure hand of Mr. Larrain (and editor, Sebastian Sepulveda) as he juggles the flash-back/forward nature of the film’s ninety-plus minutes. Eschewing a basic narrative structure, this is no minute-by-minute account…while successfully possessing a beginning, middle and end. And where Sergio Armstrong’s cinematography for “Neruda” featured a muted, soft and dream-like color palette, “Jackie” offers stark, sometimes glaringly oppositional colors and lighting from Stephane Fontaine.
As for Mica Levi’s Sakamoto-esque score…people either hate it or love it. Put me in the latter camp. Out of context, it can certainly come across as trite or overtly “film-school”. But IN context…I felt it adequately accentuated the confusion and dizziness that the subject experiences as she tries to find her balance amidst the brutal and devastating tumult. It feels more like a score from a South American film, rather than a Hollywood picture.
I loved this film…as much as one can love a film that picks at a never-healing national scab. I am quite sure my parents generation will have trouble with this film. It is unflinching and a million times more revealing than their experience of the event… recalled, as it was, mostly through the haze of network news anchors – and not in the immediacy of cell-phone video and social networking that beats every story over our heads in current times. This film will force them to see…to re-live…and that will not be easy or pleasant. But as someone who was conceived during the height of JFK’s administration, but born surrounded by the national depression that followed his murder, I was grateful for a better understanding of not only what this woman went through as a witness & surviving victim, but of her handling of the aftermath as both a wife and a country’s First Lady. A terrific film.
Written on 12/29/2016
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