Friday, 20 January 2017

I've Just Seen: Jackie (2016)

Director: Pablo Larrain

The assassination of JFK looms large over modern culture, with many returning to it again and again with a disbelief which manifests itself in all the conspiracy theories that surround the event. Larrain's film takes a different approach, centring us in the human story of the assassination: that on that day in Dallas, a woman and two children lost a husband and a father. The film also argues that history hung in the balance, and that Jackie was instrumental in creating the mythology around her husband's presidency.

Noah Oppenheim's script is very clever, moving backwards and forwards over what happened before and after the shooting, from Jackie's famous television special about the White House (or 'The People's House'), to the immediate aftermath, and JFK's funeral. The framing device, Jackie's interview with an unnamed journalist, allows us move around these events, following Jackie's reflections on this recent history.

Natalie Portman is absolutely fantastic as Jackie Kennedy. The film's success rests on the strength of the central performance, and Portman is never neither but compelling. Jackie was such an iconic figure, from her appearance down to her voice, that it would be easy to fall in parody. Instead, Portman gives Jackie a very human face. Her grief, pain and anger is real, and we get glimpses of a wry sense of humour. She is also portrayed as an intelligent student of history; it is she who decides to use Lincoln's funeral as a model for JFK.

The film's power has grown on me since I saw it. For something that has such a narrow focus, it delves deeply into the emotions of grief and loss. The film's score helps create the nightmare quality, with sliding, discordant strings on a black screen starting the story off. I loved the 16mm film Larrain used; it not only helped create the 1960s feel of the story, but its texture added to the rawness of the emotions on screen.

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