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Probably no movie actress suffered more from a combination of misogynist Hollywood politics and reactionary Washington politics than Jean Seberg. The star of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless suffered years of harassment and surveillance from the FBI for supporting the Black Panthers in the late 1960s, all of which contributed to her depression and was a factor in Seberg taking her own life in 1979.
The tragic drama of Seberg’s life should make her a great biopic subject, particularly its amazingly symbolic early episode in which, playing Joan of Arc for Otto Preminger in 1957, she underwent a terrifying near martyrdom tied to the stake when the arrogant and reckless director allowed real flames to get too close to her. And yet the disparate episodes of her life are tricky to encompass dramatically, and a 1983 stage musical, Jean Seberg, for London’s National Theatre with music by Marvin Hamlisch, was a notorious flop.
Now there is this flawed account from screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse and directed by Benedict Andrews. The movie features a heartfelt and utterly committed performance from Kristen Stewart, who is as plausible in the role of Seberg as anyone could be, and the drama homes in on that period in her life when she supported the Black Panthers and had a relationship with activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie).
But this film also finds it necessary, in the apparent interests of liberal balance, to invent a fictional young FBI officer Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) who is decent, sensitive, appalled at what his organisation is doing to Seberg and makes a muddled attempt to warn her. But why? Why invent this character at all? Why make the travails of this made-up man dramatically equivalent to Seberg’s very real ordeal? It is a strange contrivance and the film never quite rings true.
• Seberg is released in the UK on 10 January and in Australia on 30 January.
Source: The Guardian
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