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Natalie Portman in "Jackie"
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Foto: Stephanie Branchu/Filmfestival Venedig

'Jackie' offers intimate portrait of the first lady

Jochen Kürten kbm
December 1, 2016

"Jackie" is an impressive portrait of a fascinating woman. Directed by Chilean Pablo Larraín, the film explores what Jacqueline Kennedy went through just after JFK's assassination. It opens in US cinemas on December 2.


When "Jackie" pre-premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival, it was greeted with a standing ovation - both for the exceptional performance of lead Natalie Portman and for director Pablo Larraín. In the end, "Jackie" also won a prize, but it didn't go to the Israeli-American actress nor the Chilean director.

It was New York TV producer and screenplay writer Noah Oppenheim who won a Silver Lion for best screenplay. But the real surprise happened even before the movie was made: It was no small coup for a Chilean director to get to film this intrinsically American story.

Not your typical Hollywood biography

But perhaps it was the outsider's perspective that makes this film so interesting. "Jackie" is no standard, opulent Hollywood flick - which could have lent itself to this topic.

"We all know the story of John F. Kennedy's assassination," said Larraín, "but not from the perspective of his wife." And precisely that was the director's approach. He examined what "both" Jacqueline Kennedys experienced on that fateful day in November 1963 - the fashion icon and president's widow, as well as the privately mourning woman.

What did she go through in the days that followed, when she went into mourning with her traumatized children in the global spotlight?

'A queen without a crown'

"Jackie was a queen without a crown who lost her throne and her husband," said Larraín. His film largely focuses on the internal perspective of the protagonist.

Film still from
We really hardly knew Jacqueline Kennedy, says LarraínImage: picture-alliance/Zuma/Fox Searchlight Pictures

A few days after the assassination, a reporter for "Life" magazine asked Jackie how she was doing. This interview and the flashbacks are juxtaposed with scenes showing the shocked and traumatized widow directly after the shooting. They all have one thing in common: Natalie Portman as the First Lady is on screen practically without interruption. That lends the film density and focus.

"The stylish, cultivated and beloved Jacqueline Kennedy is one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. But we know only very little about her," concluded Larraín. The "introverted, impervious woman" is probably one of the "best-known unknown people of the modern era."

Larraín said he likes the thought that no one really knows today what she really was like - "we'll never know her aura, the sparkle in her eyes." Consequently, his film could only "consist of fragment, pieces of memories, associations, places, images, people."

Larraín's unique viewpoint

Just last year, Pablo Larraín won a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for his dark film "El Club," which is about sexual abuse among priests. In this film as well, he chose a unique perspective.

Unlike in the Oscar-winning American film "Spotlight," he didn't make a thrilling genre film, but created a psychograph of the perpetrators. "El Club" only portrays a few former priests who have been sent to an isolated house for committing crimes against children. The movie is dreary, but consequential. 

From Jackie to Chile's top poet

Prior to that, the Chilean director, who is considered to be one of the most interesting and active Latin American filmmakers at the moment, made three films that touched on the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

Recently, Larraín opened the Mar del Plata International Film Festival in Argentina with his latest work, "Neruda," about Chilean poet and national hero Pablo Neruda. 

"Jackie" opens in the US on Friday, while "Neruda" is released in cinemas on December 16. With these two works, American audiences will have an opportunity to get to know this fascinating Latin American director and his cinematic approach to two icons of the 20th century.


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