Monday, 13 February 2017

christine (d. antonio campos, w. craig shilowich)

I don’t know if it’s a question of the programming of the London cinemas or my lack of adventurism, but there seems to be a surplus of US material. Christine is another solidly constructed US drama. It’s based on the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a 1970s reporter who shot herself on air. Given that her story has a notoriety which is the reason the film is being made, the ending is always in sight. We know this woman is going to have a breakdown which will result in her suicide. The key is how the film navigates this process. It does it with a clear-eyed linear efficiency, resisting any impulse to explore the interior world of her depression in any kind of poetic or heightened cinematic fashion. Instead the script employs a dry wit, permitting us to identify with this anguished soul as she rails against the ridiculousness of the news-making process she is a part of. The topical issue of “fake news” never seems far away (will the reader have any idea of what this means in thirty years time?), as is the suggestion of an America which is in danger of losing its moral compass. The impeachment process against Nixon is the political backdrop for Christine’s story, although she herself is operating in a sleepy Floridian town. Her editor’s desire to sensationalise the local news is part of what drives her to despair, with the suicide representing, according to the film’s version, a kind of semiotic statement on the absurdity of the process of news itself. All of this is handled adroitly by the script and the film. A more profound exploration of the reporter’s mental illness is left to Rebecca Hall, who plays her. Hall’s performance is notable: the sidewise looks and mood swings are realised with an economy that never threatens to turn into caricature. It’s her performance which lends weight to a film which sometimes seems so tied up with presenting a measured, ironic portrayal of this corner of 1970s USA that it’s in danger of losing touch with the seismic personal trauma its heroine is experiencing. 

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