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February 25, 2017

Jackie (2016)
Director: Pablo Larraín
Actors: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup

JACKIE-O-324x160.jpg (324×160)

Synopsis: Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) conducts an interview weeks after the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy, and reflects back on the recent whir of events.

Review: Too often the biopic genre devolves into an odious parlour game where the opportunity to capitalise on the public thirst for the sensational re-enactment of famous (usually tragic) stories and figures becomes the sole modus operandi. A biopic of Jackie Kennedy – certainly around the time of JFK’s assassination – could easily have slipped into this category, especially as the two things she is most readily associated with are her iconicism and tragic stature. The beauty of this film and director Pablo Larraín’s intent are that he uses the hook of the JFK assassination/Jackie grieving ‘story’ to three-dimensionalise connotations of its “legendary” status.

Larraín’s first key decision he got correct was in recruiting Natalie Portman to play the central role. Affecting the persona of a well-known public figure can often be a trap for the disingenuous method actor – getting caught up in the inane, conceited endeavour of reconstructing tics (Cate Blanchett is a serial offender) that tend to obfuscate the truth. The beauty of Portman’s turn here is that her affectations are born out of understanding the sentiment of her persona, hence it’s a very truthful characterisation.

Equally brilliant is the construction of the story. The framing device which allows Jackie a voice to reflect back on the events of the previous weeks is less a convenient dramatic conceit and more an eloquent, meta-referential emblem for the film’s mandate: to try to refine and make sense of the cataclysmic position Jackie found herself in personally, publicly and existentially after her husband’s death. The film’s eloquence is in the way it probes at precisely what “Jackie” stood for in a series of scattered chronological threads (Jackie’s framing interview with the journalist, a 1961 featurette where Jackie took a TV crew on a tour of the White House, the death of JFK and its immediate aftermath, the build up to the funeral, Jackie’s ‘confessional’ conversations with a Catholic Father, the funeral) – all of which converge beautifully and sensually as we come to realise the film’s central purpose.

That central purpose is of course to understand and admire Jackie’s dignity and pathos, but more importantly – it’s to perceive the sheer brutality of a way of life being completely wrenched from someone in a matter of hours. Her husband was brutally murdered in her very arms, she was necessarily shoe-horned out of her house and public position within days, she was forced to manage her family’s intimate affairs amid frenzied global scrutiny, and then was left in an unenviable position of having essentially a bleak canvas of her remaining days left to exist in the melancholic afterglow of her lost “camelot” without even the driver/need of having to provide for her own family as other young widows in her situation would. That Larraín wraps all this cerebral posturing up in exquisite cinematography, production design and editing only adds to the richness of the film’s sophisticated command of its story. (February 2017)

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