Los Angeles Times

Stéphane Fontaine | ‘Jackie’

- calendar@latimes.com

The scene: In a moment of quiet aboard Air Force One, Jackie Kennedy allows the shock of JFK’s assassinat­ion to sink in. As Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, the apparatus of government moves to restore normalcy, but Jackie resists the suggestion that she change into an outfit that’s not stained with her husband’s blood: “Let them see what they’ve done.”

Shot significan­ce: “Jackie,” which was written by Noah Oppenheim and directed by Pablo Larraín, casts the first lady as the nation’s image-maker-in-chief, a woman whose understand­ing of visual power goes far beyond her status as a fashion icon. We’ve already seen her leading a camera crew through the White House for the first time, a tour that ends with a staged appearance by her husband that restores her to her place as the world’s most powerful housewife. But after his death, she becomes the guardian of his legacy, the creator of Camelot, and it all begins with that fateful moment.

Birth of the shot: For much of the shoot, “Jackie” took what cinematogr­apher Fontaine calls “a cubist approach to storytelli­ng.” Using 16 millimeter to emulate the feel of period footage — apart from the White House tour, which was shot with vintage video cameras — they filmed the same scenes in multiple locations and intercut the results, using wideangle lenses and improvisat­ion to give Natalie Portman freedom to move and react in character. “We wanted to stay close to her but not lose the background,” Fontaine explains. “Natalie would walk pretty much where she wanted to, stay far, come close. I’m not even sure she would know herself what she was about to do or say. It was like a ballet between her and the camera.”

On Air Force One, though, that freedom comes to an abrupt end. For this specific moment, Fontaine says, “nothing else could really matter.” After trying to hold the fragments of her husband’s shattered skull together as they sped down the Dallas freeway, Jackie is at her most helpless, and the scene’s distinct staging needed to reflect that.

Making it work: Much of the film plays out in close-ups of Portman’s face, but on Air Force One, Fontaine chose to use a long lens for the only time on the shoot. Instead of being in documentar­y-style focus, the world around her becomes a blur. “It tells us and it tells Jackie as well that everything that we had before is gone forever, and from then on, she will be in a different world,” Fontaine explains. “The world she knew before is gone.”

Although the scene wasn’t shot on a real plane, Fontaine and Larraín chose to stick as close to reality as they could. “Although we were shooting in studio, we didn’t want to benefit from any of the advantages of being in a studio,” Fontaine says. They did, he admits, lengthen Air Force One by a few feet, but Portman was still physically confined by the size of the set and hemmed in by history. “I think every word was written. The dialogue was very precise.” Despite the strictures and the emotional intensity, he says, Portman kept things flowing smoothly. “She has this amazing quality of staying focused and being at the same time totally easygoing during takes, very laid back,” he says. “It should be more common among actors, I think.”

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