Since the dawn of cinema, the concept of the biographical genre has conceived this expectation of a historical figure’s life and exploits to be depicted upon screen as a play by play. There is a desire to witness the critical events of this person’s life in a manner that we can personally sink our minds in, to establish that powerful connection between two human beings, to see these individuals at an accessible level, to revel in their glorification while simultaneously observing them with an empathetic view. Audience for so long has been spoilt by this manner of storytelling, to hold their hand as events and characterisation unfold, and to bypass the sense of challenge that would enrich our perspectives of the figure.
It is in the opportunity that a director and its writers would take in providing audiences with that unorthodox approach that would finally challenge them; audiences finally seeing an individual through a more broad and complex pathway, leaving forth an impact that would be greater remembered, and potentially admired. This was certainly the case with David O. Russell’s Joy, where a film defies expectations of the biographical format, taking primarily the essence of who Joy Mangano is and what she represents in the legacy that she has left on the world, and allowing that to be the core engine of her life’s adaptation. Russell has taken what would have been a mundane slice of uphill success, to a thematically charged and dramatically gripping tale that provides clear answers only in careful fractions.
A similar case were to be found in Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, in that his biographical outlook of the titular character is presented in fractured pieces, linking them one another via an emotional and thematic undercurrent as it carefully explores the grief and legacy of the first lady. It is through this narrative fashion that one is unable to predict themselves of the journey that its character would take, and within Larrain’s direction, it is evident that his intentions lies greater in emphasising the individual passing moments that she endures in her life, notably in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination. I found myself sunk into the emotional grip of the scenes, to find the window behind her present state, to understand the torment, confusion, and desperation that fuels her, and rarely does the film ever leave a moment of hollowness to be felt.
Withholding much of the film of the simplicity and directness of expository dialogue, much of the film relies on the visual atmosphere and the spearheaded performance of it’s leading lady to truly sell the film’s appeal. I can safely say that Natalie Portman’s portrayal is one of the most textured efforts that I have seen of the past year; driven by an overwhelming melancholy and existential confrontation that perfectly captures that mould of a purposeless and mystified widow, attempting to ensure the fitting send-off for her departed husband and ensuring to keep herself in check as shadows of emotion slowly consumes her. This is further achieved through the obsessive choice of capturing Portman’s performance in close-up, unwilling to detach the film of exploring other characters, reinforcing the biographical nature of its storytelling. Accompanying this is the film’s ability to reflect the aesthetic of the period through its choice of film stock, framing, and colour desaturation as it allows the film to consistently reflect the gloomy aura that properly reflects the internal condition of the titular character.
Jackie may not be the most impressive work to have emerged from 2016, but it is one of the most demanding ones in terms of acting and direction. It conveys the soul of a woman who has endured through a tragic experience that many may have misunderstood or underestimated, and Pablo Larrain has achieved as much as he could to break down those barriers and reveal the true afflicted soul of Jacqueline Kennedy.