Martin Carter reports back from the Toronto International Film Festival 4

Posted 14 September 2016

The films of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain demand much from their audience, his films challenge and even intimidate the viewer with their uncompromising narratives. Three of his films (Tony Manero, Post-Mortem and No) deal with Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and each takes a completely different stylistic approach to their subject matter; with his most accessible film, No, with Gael Garcia Bernal as an advertising executive using commercial advertising methods to mobilise Chileans against the regime and shot on video to create a heightened sense of realism, being an excellent example.

Larrain has two features at Toronto; Neruda, again starring Bernal, that deals with the persecution of poet Pablo Neruda in 1940s Chile and Jackie, his first English language film and the one which will be gathering the most attention. I haven't been able to catch Neruda yet but Jackie is, quite simply, an extraordinary piece of cinema. Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in a film that shows the events of the week after the assassination of her husband in Dallas; there is also a framing device of an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) and a reconstruction of the 1961 television special A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, which went out on all three networks, and Larrain adopts different compositional shooting styles for each. However, any notion of this being a conventional biopic are immediately quashed by the eerie strains of the distorted score by Mica Levi, whose music for Under The Skin was so crucial to that film's sense of dread. Larrain then weaves a disorientating picture of shocking grief and loss which is both devastating and dreamy - there is an astonishing sequence where Jackie wanders around an empty White House in a dazed reverie drinking and smoking whilst the Broadway cast recording of Camelot blares out.

Portman is a revelation and her performance will be all you hear about between now and the Academy Awards but it is almost too good to be just awarded an Oscar. Until now I have not been that impressed by Portman's career - and yes, that includes Black Swan - in fact, she was great in her debut Leon and has not delivered on that promise until now. It is a career-changing performance but in a film that mainstream audiences are going to find extremely difficult - it is not Larrain-lite and many will be frustrated by the film's elliptical structure and unconventional staging. I left the screening stunned and it is a film I cannot shake off as images keep repeating themselves in my head, most vividly a shot of Portman's face covered in blood and contorted in grief as the president’s limo hurtles down an empty freeway.

Do not miss this film.

I await to see if Toronto can top this one.

Martin Carter

Principal Film Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, Martin regularly gives lectures and courses at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.Read more posts by Martin Carter

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