Directed by Pablo Larrain
Screenplay by Noah Oppenheim
Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudrup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E.Grant
A few days after the death of her husband in 1963 Jackie Kennedy agrees to be interviewed by a reporter from Life magazine at the Kennedy Compound at Hyannis Port. For Jackie, who wants to control how her husband will be remembered, it’s not easy to review the pain and the contradictions of her years as First Lady. She also unburdens herself to a priest. We see how different she is from the image of perfection she projects to the world. Her life is a complex balancing act between reality and the mythical world of Camelot.
This is not a film about history, but about how history is transmuted into myth. In a stellar performance, Natalie Portman relives for viewers the pain, the regret, the anger, the questions, the contradictory feelings of a woman who cradled her dying husband in her lap. And after this tragedy, she succeeds in transforming JFK into the hero of an American Camelot (which was the Presidents favourite musical).
Larrain deliberately keeps JFK almost entirely outside the film. The President features mainly in retrospective shots of the assassination during her interview. These memories gradually compose the problematic (and fascinating) portrait of a woman searching to define her own identity.
Betrayed wife, First Lady, loving mother, widow and style icon, Natalie Portman’s Jackie is not an immediately lovable woman. She is reactive, inconstant, almost capricious as she struggles to cope with the collapse of her dreams. Jackie also distances herself from the stiff image of the perfect housewife she projected in the famous TV documentary of White House after she had remodelled it.
Jackie is a brilliant portrait of a woman consumed by contradictory feelings of loyalty and resentment towards her very flawed husband. On Portman’s face are truths that are impossible to convey on the pages of a magazine or a TV broadcast.
Jackie is consumed by the need to define JFK’s place in the history books. But the film also shows that she wants to find answers to deeper questions about the meaning of life and suffering. That is why she consults a priest in the days after the tragedy in Dallas. The assassination was not her only sorrow; apart from her husband’s infidelities, she lost a prematurely born baby in August, an event which deeply affected her. Larrain gives no answer to this theological question, but his openness to mystery is undeniable.
The movie revolves around the First Lady, but Peter Sarsgaard’s Bobby Kennedy is masterful, managing with few glances and words to convey an ensemble of emotions that make JFK’s kid brother a fascinating figure in his own right.
Luisa Cotta Ramosino is an Italian television writer and creative producer; she is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri del cinema and Scegliere un film, an annual collection of film reviews.