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:: Jackie

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín makes his English language debut with the Darren Aronofsky produced Jackie. The assassination of John F Kennedy is one of the most tragic events in world history and much has been written and watched about how he died and the theories behind the shooting on that fateful day in Dallas, Texas. However, this film shows how the drama unfolded in the eyes of First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. who married John several years before he was elected President. Her parents were of French and British ancestry.

Natalie Portman plays the role of America's most famous First Lady, a woman who went from being a fashion clotheshorse to a national figure of tragedy on that fateful day in 1963. Noah Oppenheim's screenplay confines the action to the days surrounding that personal and national trauma. We meet Jackie in the aftermath of JFK's assassination as she sits down for an interview with a journalist (played with a restrained cynicism by Billy Crudup).

The interview is her chance to frame her own image more to her liking and she seems to delight in giving the reporter juicy details and then assuring him he will never be allowed to publish them. She makes it clear she controls the conversation and even edits his notes, determined to have this be her own version of what happened.

Director Pablo Larraín returns repeatedly to the events of Dallas and the horrific car ride she took. She must contend with the arrangements for the funeral and the not always sympathetic attentions of the Kennedy family, led by a wrathful and grieving Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard), who sees in his brother's death also the end of his own political ambitions.

Jackie is torn between giving her husband a send-off worthy of his legacy and wanting to dig a hole and lie down in it. She confesses her suicidal thoughts to her priest (John Hurt). At one point she confided, “I never wanted fame. I just became a Kennedy.” The cinematography, which manages to get up close to Jackie, maintains a sense of the environment in which she moved - from the familiarity of the White House to the foggy lakeside where she confesses.

Also woven in is a meticulous re-creation of “A Tour of the White House,” the 1962 television program on which a sweetly nervous, elegant Jackie Kennedy introduced a national audience to the restoration and redecoration work she had supervised in “America’s house.”

The film is mesmerizing; a familiar story told from an entirely different angle. The scenes of Jackie alone in her White House bedroom, after the shooting, feel almost unbearably intimate, but you can’t look away.

The iconic first lady is given emotional complexity and rich understanding through a stirring and ambitious performance by Natalie Portman. She creates a touchingly fragile yet resolute Jackie, made up of nervous smiles and a whispery voice, and a straight-shouldered, gentle defiance. As she goes through the motions of those terrible days, directing the funeral and seeing to her children (the sight of her in a black dress at 3-year-old John’s quiet birthday party is heartbreaking). Jackie becomes obsessed with the death of Lincoln, wanting to emulate the great funeral the man had.

The actress had done her research well, with her breathless vocals resembling Jackie’s own, yet Portman gives her a distinctive spark, too, especially in the way she handles her young children and Bobby. Portman also does a fine job of conveying Jackie’s underestimated toughness, and yes, the calculated efforts just after the assassination to make sure her husband’s legacy was perhaps even greater than his actual accomplishments in office.

For all its sombre notes, Jackie is sturdy filmmaking, its Dallas sequences in particular so crisply staged and edited. Larraín wants viewers to see things through the woman’s distraught eyes as she attempts to pick up the pieces of her own life and as American politics moves on around her. We see the fated event in a lightning-quick, wonderfully photographed and choreographed overhead shot of the cavalcade, but Jackie is a film that takes place largely in Air Force One and the White House. Overall, a very well presented film from a director on the cusp of the mainstream. You sense an American filmmaker might not have managed it.