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Thread: SEBERG (Benedict Andrews 2019)

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    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    SEBERG (Benedict Andrews 2019)



    How the FBI drove Jean Seberg crazy

    Jean Seberg has two lives for us. In one, the happy one, she is Patricia, the American girl with a pixie blonde haircut, French striped jeersey, and black capri paints selling the New York Herald Tribune on the Champs Élysées who becomes the lover of Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard's first film, the immortal Breathless (À bout de souffle). The other, sad, Seberg is the one the FBI drove crazy when she was enmeshed in J.Edgar Hoover's malicious COINTELPRO program to track and block civil rights movements and the Black Panther Party, which chose to "neutralize" and make an example of her for contributing to both, and, most unforgivable of all, having sex with a black revolutionary. The sad Seberg is the one Benedict Andrews' bad movie, Seberg, is interested in. The actress deserves better.

    This is an unfortunate new variation on the biopic that focuses only on a figure's decline, like Judy. But Seberg, unlike Judy, does not exhibit an actress's impressive mimicry of a famous figure (Renée Zellweger's Oscar-winning turn as Judy Garland). Kristen Stewart looks superficially like Jean Seberg but we wouldn't know if she'd perfectly mimicked her or not. We don't know that well what Seberg sounded like, apart from her magic moment in Breathless (though she was in numerous other French films and another with Belmondo). Stewart obviously couldn't use the sweet, casual Breathless voice in this film. Stewart's performance has conviction, but it can't save the picture, Neither can Vince Vaughan save it as a malicious, racist FBI boss or Jack McConnell save it as a squeaky clean young agent (with no British accent) who has no stomach for what he begins to see his federal bosses are doing to Seberg - hounding her and invading her privacy to the point that they literally drive her crazy. It was asserted later by her French husband that they had made her psychotic. And she said they caused the premature birth, and death two days later, of her little girl, which made her suicidal.

    This is not so much a terrible movie as a terrible idea. What the writing team of Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse are doing is using scenes from the life of Jean Seberg to "get at" the FBI's vicious behavior in COINTELPRO. We follow Jean with her second husband, the French novelist Romain Gary (Yvan Attal), on a trip to America where she meets some Black Panthers on the plane, and then briefly becomes the lover of Hakim Jamal (an appealing Anthony Mackie). (Jamal's wife actually did try to end the affair, if not as in the movie.) Then the FBI takes over, with these irrelevant characters to give the organization a"personality" that, particularly given the point of view of this film, it doesn't deserve.

    We would like to know something about Seberg. She seems to have had an interesting life, glamorous, risky, apparently intelligent, part American, part French. All we get to see is her Hollywood glass house and pool, and her New York Apartment. She was a lifetime activist (during a brief lifetime, since she committed suicide, perhaps assisted, at forty). Basically though, we only see her write a couple of checks and go to bed with a Panther. What about her career? Glimpsing her before the film begins getting literally burned (apparently) at the stake playing Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger's unsuccessful film, her debut, and seeing her on the fake set of a bad Mexican movie hardly suffice to show us what her film career was like. There's one good brief scene where she practices lines with Jamal/Mackie for an audition. That has the kind of fresh, improvised feel - the feel of this period - that this self-conscious, clumsy, over-explaining script never captures again.

    But why do we have to spend so much time with the FBI anyway, sitting in vans listening to Seberg on bug lines, and planting them, and kicking her chihuahua to death? If there's anything I don't want to see on screen, it's a small dog getting kicked to death. Maybe this should have been a gross-out comedy. The government's goons are more suitably laughed at, not diligently followed. They don't deserve this attention - and above all, Jean Seberg doesn't deserve to be in a movie where they get nearly as much screen time as she does. They are not interesting. It would even be more subtle, and give a better sense of Seberg's experience, if we never, or barely ever, saw them, so they were just creepy things happening, as it seemed like to her.

    I can understand that Kristen Stewart, who is a very cool actress, thought this was a life she could relate to and get behind. But it didn't work. It wasn't good casting. Stewart doesn't have Seberg's radiant glow, open eyes, openness. Stewart in fact is a dark, recessive, dry kind of actress. So it didn't work. I wonder if Stewart realized it wasn't working while the picture was being made, and felt manipulated, the way Jean Seberg herself felt.

    Seberg, 100 mins., debuted at Venice Aug. 2019, where it bombed. It was included in ten other international festivals, including Toronto and London. Initial US release in Dec. 2019, but showing up later. It continues to bomb, but given the subject and the star, it arouses curiosity, for some, including me. Screened for this review Feb. 29, 2020 at Village East, NYC. Metascore: 54%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-29-2020 at 07:36 PM.


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