In the UK, when the queen dies, because some day she will, we cancel comedy until after her funeral. It’s one part of this officially recognised national mourning ceremony. The BBC will cancel all the comedy, our queen is dead, why should the people laugh. It’s weird cos the BBC ain’t a particularly archaic body, it started in 1922, at some point it was just decided it would be this way. Jackie is a movie about a country that doesn’t do this, that doesn’t have this, but so desperately wants to. In the same way that everyone wants to, because, when it comes down to it, why shouldn’t the whole world stop for a while, your definitely has.
Jackie covers the life of Jackie Kennedy for a short time after the loss of her husband, the American President. We see her reflecting on her personal loss, making arrangements for the funeral, recalling her life lived within the white house. She recollects this all to a journalist who she knows will give her a favourable story regardless.
There’s little more to it than that, it’s a deliberately slight film, not interested in telling legacies or exposes. Stéphane Fontaine pushes his camera right up into Natalie Portman’s face, all the better to capture her grief with. (Let’s note by the way that this year he shot Jackie, Elle and Captain Fantastic, fucking great year for him.) Peter Sarsgaard and Greta Gerwig appear as Robert Kennedy and Nancy Tuckerman but both shrink, reduced to echoes in this cavernously depicted white house.
It’s so lush, it’s like an obsessive’s film, and the production design here is everything. It feels so reductive to reduce and granulate a film down to its surface, but the surface here is everything. It’s how these characters look in Madeline Fontaine’s costumes. It’s how they exist in Jean Rabasse’s spaces. It’s how Mica Levi’s score pierces through the silence. Because death will make us all powerless. Not particularly insightful, I know, and the film can be surely whipped on that account. What sticks is the cumulative effect of all that surface, that’s what makes it real.
It’s why Portman herself is so hype here, because in her performance she understands. She don’t really judge Jackie, we’re not really seeing any take here. Besides, we’re looking at a time in her life when little of that truly applies. What she does get here is the power. The understanding that for a brief moment she is the most powerful person in the goddamn building. It’s a power we don’t get to see too much, she is elemental here, a snapshot of abandon. And through all of that, that surface, it hits you like a gut punch, proper awesome.
I’ve been thinking recently about cinema as portrait, rather than cinema as biography. Probably something that better educated people have said more about and better. Why’s it gotta be a portrait of Jackie or a portrait of grief or a portrait of the power to bend the world to your will? It’s of all of these and more. There’s a lot of love in my heart for this one.