Dir.: Pablo Larrain; Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Max Castella, John Hurt; USA/Chile 2016, 91 min.
Director Pablo Larrain (Neruda) films Noah Oppenheim’s intricate script of JACKIE, covering four days in the life of first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy that opens on her arrival in Dallas on that fateful day in November 1963. Roaming ecliptically, the film de-constructs the tragic and delivers a moving portrait of trauma and grief that turns into a media event.
Even though politics are always present, this is never a political film. Jackie (Portman) has to deal with the sudden wrecking ball of her husband’s death followed immediately by the loss of her family home in the Whitehouse. The presidential successor Lyndon B Johnson, follows hot on her heels, chasing her out to move in with his own family, just as Jackie has restored the place to reflect the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. With the move, shown in great detail, comes the realisation of her loss in status: Jackie is quickly becoming a ‘has-been’, her husband’s funeral arrangement are her last official occasion.
Suffering from survivor’s guilt, Jackie argues with her brother-in law, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Sarsgaard), about marching behind her husband’s coffin from the Capitol to Arlington cemetery – which is seen as a security risk by the new administration and foreign dignitories such as General de Gaulle. Changing her mind more than once, Jackie finally decides to risk of walking alongside the cortege – as did De Gaulle. Having no illusions about her late husband’s excessive philandering, she nevertheless wants to write a final chapter to his presidency, “something the world will remember”.
The losses mount up: Jackie decides to re-bury her two lost children the next to their father’s grave in Arlington, whilst dealing with her official assistant Pamela Turnure (Gerwig), who was one of her husband’s mistresses. The awkwardness is obvious, Nathalie Portman’s performance resonates with subtle complexity in her leading role. Only in an interview with Jack Valenti , (Castella), a PR man working for Johnson, do we get a glimpse of the real Jacqueline Kennedy, who after all worked as journalist before her marriage. Acutely aware of the difference between public perception and the truth: she is not willing to give an inch in her battle to canonise her husband as a great president.
The film flashes back to a black and white re-created TV clip, shot at beginning of her reign as First Lady, explaining to the public the redecorations she had made in the White House. Here, we see Jackie, fragile and vulnerable, before she enters public office, part of the illusion played out for the adoring public. And finally we learn about the legendary “Camelot” reference which is always associated with JFK’s presidency. It turns out to the name of his favourite musical – the vinyl was on the turntable before the couple left for Dallas. JACKIE is not so much history biopic as a case study of a courageous woman who was loyal to her husband, even after his death and despite his utter contempt of her: “we did not spend many nights together, not even the [last] one in Forth Worth”
Larrain directs with great sensitivity and a good eye for detail. Only the scene with a cleric (John Hurt) come over as stilted, the rest is perfect detachment and observation. DoP Stephane Fontaine finds a perfect style for all occasions: the Dallas shooting is tense and realistic, the White House sequences show not so much glitter but a film-studio like appearance. The close-ups are always telling, separating lies from truth. Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime, as a intelligent woman, adored by the public for her innate style and elan as ‘sold’ by the media. AS
NOW ON RELEASE FROM 20 January 2017 | BEST SCRIPT WINNER NOAH OPPENHEIM