It’s truly surprising, and a tremendous rarity too, that Pablo Larraín made two biographical films in the same year, and which couldn’t have been more spectacularly different in nearly every aspect. Neruda, chronicling the legendary poet’s flee upon the Chilean government’s purge against Communists, was a playful and delightfully modernist mock-biopic; Jackie – his first venture into Hollywood – centered on Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) reminiscing certain key periods in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination, was, in contrast, a somber, serious and self-conscious study in grief. Yet, the startling tonal and formal differences aside, both had a strong focus on the idea of myth making, and how history is often shaped by perceptions. It starts off with an interview of the recently widowed Jackie by a journalist (Billy Crudup) – a composite character – whose insolence and cynicism are palpable, even if Jackie controls what gets printed; this establishing premise, which somehow reminded me of Frost/Nixon, held a tantalizing potential of a take on truth vis-à-vis perceptions, and therefore the unravelling of the myths surrounding the superceleb couple. Larraín, despite his penchant for subversive and political filmmaking, however, went for a rather straightforward portrayal, by intercutting between a few key moments – her hosting of a televised tour of the White House; being beside JFK when he got shot; the strains between the cocky Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and LBJ (Caspar Phillipson); being comforted by her close confidante (Greta Gerwig); bulldozing her desire for a gala funeral procession; and sharing her insecurities with a priest (John Hurt). However, despite its overly staid approach, the film did have its moments that resonated, courtesy the stark production designs, and Portman’s immersive turn.
Director: Pablo Larrain
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Biopic