One of the most talked about upcoming films of the year, Jackie is a stunning yet haunting biopic of Jackie Onassis directed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín. The former First Lady is played by Natalie Portman, who is able to embody the effect that Ms. Onassis had on those around her. For those familiar with Larraín’s work, it may seem surprising that he has taken on such a project. He is, after all, one of the most daring filmmakers of his generation, known for his inventive and unusual storytelling style. One thinks of his metafictional approach in his last film Neruda, a portrait of celebrated poet and politician Pablo Neruda. Jackie, however, is not your average biopic. Once the movie begins with a few eerie notes of a unique score by young British experimental musician Mica Levi, it will be clear that Larraín has left his mark on the film.
Jackie exudes a shockingly raw quality rarely found in the biopic genre. The film is based around Theodore H. White’s Life magazine interviews of Jackie merely a week after the assassination of her husband John F Kennedy. The viewer is taken for quite an unusual journey through the tragic day in Dallas, Jackie’s alone time in the White House, the arranging of Kennedy’s funeral, and Jackie’s time going to Arlington cemetery alongside her husband’s coffin. These scenes are not told in order, but rather edited by Sebastián Sepúlveda into non-sequential slices of memory. The film is outside of the box in almost every respect, including cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine’s close-ups that seem a bit too far into the personal space of the subject.
Onassis is certainly portrayed as a woman going through grief, but the film is not conventionally sympathetic. She is shown as a woman who is able to shift her identity depending on whether she is in public, in the press, or with associates. In the interview as Pablo Larraín portrays it, Onassis is portrayed as both guarded, making biting remarks to the reporter, and vulnerable, speaking somberly about her husband’s murder. The film also shows Jackie take off all of these metaphorical masks in the intimate scenes when she is alone in the White House.
The film will not be released in the U.S. until December 2, 2016, but there is already a lot of buzz among film critics about Portman’s likelihood of winning an Oscar. The film world-premiered at Venice and is currently screening in Toronto. Larraín’s film may be up for an Oscar, but Nigel M Smith of The Guardian has stated that is it “not Oscar bait” but rather “great cinema.” Larraín did not play into the typical Oscar-winning narrative, but with reviews like these, it wouldn’t be too surprising if it does win the coveted award. When it comes to the award for best actress, Natalie Portman is likely to be up against Emma Stone, whose role in the musical comedy La La Land has garnered praise from critics.