DIR: Pablo Larraín, DoP: Stéphane Fontaine
I used to write reviews of films for a now defunct website called La La Film. Ironic really, given this year’s current round of Oscar nominations… Anyway, I digress. I inadvertently became a writer for them last year after the super Liam Heffernan, now of Movie Marker saw some of my work and asked me to be involved.
My reviews were popular. One in fact, (Kill Command, 2016) was picked up and retweeted by its production company subsequently becoming one of their most read reviews of all time. Right up there with icons like Godfather and any article that they ever published about Robert De Niro.
Tonight, after a year long hiatus from reviewing, and unable to decide what exactly to publish as my first blog post for this sparkly new website that I have been building; I bring you a review about another Icon of the 20th Century. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, née Bouvier.
I knew something of the woman long before my dalliances with film. Her Chanel suits and Hyannis Port residence and East Coast nature have been on my radar for the longest time. I may be an East London wide girl but I have always had a heart that ached to be just like everything that she stood for, or I should say… that I thought she stood for.
I was told before I went to see the film that it would be ‘arty’. It was. I worried to be honest. My film buddy for the evening was my mum and artsy isn't her thing, certainly when it comes to film. She's a roast dinner, “beginning-middle and end” type of girl is my mum, except she loves Jackie as much as I do so it was always going to be good as long as we got to see the clothes and OH, sweet Jesus did we see them.
The film itself was a veritable feast of pink bouclé, custom suits and wisps of hot, clear-red swirling chiffon evening wear that would have made even the inimitable Edith Head sartorially jealous. It was a real treat. The movie is set in and around the events surrounding the death and funeral of President John F. Kennedy, and its subsequent days. It is an incredibly intimate portrait of the woman that was the myth. The fragrant Natalie Portman plays Jackie and has (in case you have been hiding in a nuclear bunker for the past 5 months, and frankly - who could blame you) been nominated for best actress for her portrayal of Mrs Kennedy and I cannot lie, it was absolutely an Oscar winning performance. She nailed absolutely everything about the part; the breathy yet slightly harsh east coast WASP accent, the ice cool demeanour that people so often found to be mysterious of Jackie Kennedy, coupled with the aloof deportment so characteristic of people born into wealth.
From a storyline point of view, I felt a slight lack of substance but that is frequently the case with films that don't fit the classic ‘story’ mould that we expect of them. It was in fact not short of plot, nor was it thin in the slightest. It was heavy and raw and powerful. I choked a few times with the breadth of the illustration of a 34 year old widow, the loneliness that we know comes with positions of great reverence and power - or their perception, and the utter desolation of a person touched so intimately by violent trauma; yet living in a time where a cuddle and a scream were just out of the question.
Technically the film goes up tight and personal to pursue this image to terrific effect. The shots are nostril-tight on the (luckily for her) beautiful Miss Portman, and we are rewarded with a raw, angry, painful portrait of a woman bereft. No pore is left unexamined with these killer shots; heck the camera was literally up in her face for the entire film.
I wondered see, whilst I was watching the film, if being a trainee cinematographer now would mean that in writing such a review, I would find myself lambasted for revealing, or questioning the magic of the movies. Being in a position of actually working on a high end production currently, I couldn't help but ask: How did they get that shot? Did they lay track for that entire shot or did they hoover it all up with a Steadicam? What lights did they use? Where was it filmed, on a sound stage? How did they affect the set build?
So many interesting technical questions, but for all of them there is one key answer for me. It was beautiful to look at… and I mean beautiful. Negative space, handsome symmetry and diagonal lines and depth of field as tight a a nine-bob note. Sunny shaky lighting in areas, conversations staged hard and clean and white in kitchens, on porches, on steps, in caramelly, mahogany-panelled rooms. Mid-century modern furniture interspersed with 18th century White House-tastic repro. A heartbroken Natalie Portman draped wistfully inspecting the most stunning ‘Cream of tomato’ carpet in the Oval Office. New England trees and lakes and baby white coffins and 'in-ambulance' shots of raw, grey, steely hardness. Teak. And Velvet. And statues and Arlington Cemetery and rain and muddy shoes and rain, more rain and mist, oh WHERE did the mist come from? What lucky filmmaking weather kismet they had… or created. Oh, and the duck egg blue, so much duck egg blue.
My high point, and surely Jackie’s low, was a defining shot of Natalie Portman as part of the funeral cortège. The shot was so tight I couldn't even see the bottom of her chin, but the perspective; it looked as though she was literally carrying the camera herself looking up at the sky. Her face almost entirely covered by the bravest costume decision that I have seen in a film for a long time.
You put Natalie Portman on screen in the tightest of tight shots and cover her face. Their exec producer must have had a mild coronary when he saw that shot for the first time. Quite literally her face was covered with a thick glossy black heavy-denier silk in mourning, and all I can remember from the shot was black. And blue. It was breathtaking. And there, in an instant, I had my first post. My first blog for you: Jackie.