PFF25 Coverage: Christine

This piece will be the first of several installments of Moving Pictures’ coverage of the 25th Philadelphia Film Festival.  PFF25 programming runs through Sunday Oct. 30th.  Click HERE for more info on the schedule and ticketing.

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Spoilers below, if you are not already familiar with the story of Christine Chubbuck.

Director Antonio Campos’ new film is based on the true story of a local Florida news reporter who committed suicide during a live broadcast in 1974.  While Christine Chubbuck was indeed a real person, Christine does not function as a typical biopic.  At its core, it’s a film about depression, how it’s triggered, how it takes root, how it festers.  Rebecca Hall, the film’s lead, gives a powerful, yet artfully measured performance that’s at times uncomfortable, but authentic and respectful of the people and issues it examines.  Christine is also a blistering and timely critique of the media’s tendency to value sensationalism over substance, and Chubbuck’s battles to produce issue driven stories in the face of the station leadership’s “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy both fuel her deterioration and render her final, stunning act more ironic and defiant.  

Structurally, Christine is unconventionally straightforward; linear, deliberate, patient.  Campos knows when to dwell in certain scenes and let them develop. In fact, I found the film to start rather slowly and wasn’t so sure what I thought of it for the first 15 to 20 minutes, but in hindsight, the slow build was necessary for the latter passages to seem well-earned.  It also pulls off the coexistence of dramatic and comedic tones (no easy feat), toying with the audience’s expectations throughout.  Aesthetically speaking, Christine’s production design, wardrobe and hair and makeup give it a strong period authenticity, and its effective sonic blend of early 70s hits and a tense original score drive home the creation of a fully formed world.  Cinematographer Joe Anderson’s camerawork plays with darkness and disorienting framing, a decided reflection of the titular character’s perspective.  

Look for significant awards attention for Rebecca Hall, who imbues this career-best turn with the speech patterns and body language of person who often overcompensates for her deep insecurities.  Michael C. Hall (of Dexter fame) steals a few scenes of his own as the station’s lead anchor and object of Chubbuck’s infatuation.  He plays, at times, like a less crass version of Thomas Hayden Church’s character in Sideways, offering some of the films ample comic relief but also holding his own in weightier scenes.  But one of the most impressive achievements of Christine is its writing of supporting characters, almost all of which are given texture and elicit some kind of empathy.  

My only slight criticism of Christine is that it seemed to continue a touch too long after the suicide.  The bulk of the film stays so focused on Chubbuck that, for me, it felt superfluous to suddenly shift so pointedly towards those left in the wake of her death for 5 or 10 minutes before the credits roll.  But this is a minor misstep.  Christine is a great film, and provided an exciting start to to my PFF25 experience.

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