The buzz around Jackie has been about Natalie Portman’s fantastic performance as Kennedy in the moments between JFK’s assassination and his funeral. And she is brilliant. However, this has meant the contribution of Pablo Larrain’s direction and Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography (and his colorist Isabelle Julien) hasn’t been acknowledged to the extent it should have been.
In an excellent interview, in No Film School, Fontaine explains how Larrain shifted the script’s emphasis from the story to Jackie’s interior world. Hence the preponderance of close ups and handheld shots that follow her grief stricken wanderings around the White House. This stylization contributes to the arthouse feel of the film which is no doubt contributing to the relatively low key box office performance. It’s not that it’s a difficult film to follow but it’s a little off-kilter for mainstream audiences.
The film’s shot on super 16mm, giving a noticeable graininess, and looks fabulous. The colours, very subdued for many of scenes with Jackie, reminded me of the iconic look of Time Life magazine in the 1960s. The shot of Jackie, in full funeral dress, standing at the graveside, where her pallour makes her look like a ghost, is stunning. Similarly, in the late night walks around the White House, the setting has a steely sheen that reminded me of Kubrick’s hotel at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A suitably otherworldly place reflecting Jackie’s dislocation from the world in her grief.
Portman’s performance anchors this technical brilliance, along with the pin point costume design; she also mimics Jackie’s eccentric pronunciation which adds to the eeriness of the narrative world. The support is superb, though John Hurt’s Irish accent should have discounted him from the role; Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby and Greta Gerwig’s assistant stand out.
Writing this coincided with Hurt’s death and it would be invidious to mark that with a criticism as he’s been such a superb actor for decades. Although I found his accent distracting, his craggy, worn out features, and intelligent demeanour made him perfect for the role of Jackie’s confidante.
This is the third film I’ve seen in the cinema this year and the others were good too: A Monster Calls (US-Spain, 2016) and A United Kingdom (US-UK, 2016). Add the fine Arrival (US, 2016), which I saw at the backend of last year, maybe I’ve rediscovered my love for cinema (‘Yeeeeeesssssss!’).
Jackie is likely to be one of the best films of the year.