Director Antonio Campos returns to the Sundance Film Festival where, four years ago, his film Simon Killer debuted to mixed reviews. This time around, however, his biopic Christine has stunned critics and audiences alike, resulting in overwhelmingly positive reviews – particularly for the performance of Rebecca Hall.
Hall portrays Christine Chubbuck, a twenty-nine-year-old 1970’s Sarasota Springs news reporter focusing almost exclusively on “human interest” pieces. Finding herself in the midst of a (male-dominated) industry eager to shift to more sensationalized content in a ratings war, she tries, but fails, to change with it. As her dormant mental illness creeps back into her mind, Christine – deteriorated and desperate – resorts to a solution that shocks everyone around her and delivers her station the notoriety it desires and she felt it deserved.
Stunning in her portrayal of a woman in well-hidden distress, Hall absolutely personifies the subtle unraveling of a woman stuck battling herself within the dysfunctional confines of her own mind. Her Christine is imbued with a physical awkwardness and, at times, a child-like affect that give rise to a feeling of compassion and helplessness. Her interactions with co-workers; her obsession with success; her relationship with her mother all instill a sense that something isn’t quite right without being obviously so.
Her sincere attempts to deliver sensationalized content under immense pressure are difficult to watch because she doesn’t know how to adapt; her innocence and insistence on showcasing the positive in the world are too powerful for her to overcome. She is simply ill-equipped to handle the stresses and demands of a cruel, unforgiving world. That, juxtaposed with her sometimes-hopeful and sunny attitude and her ever-present, unquenchable desire for perfection, leads to a tragic, hearty role that Hall clearly takes pride in. This is a marvelous, mesmerizing, Oscar-worthy performance that must be seen to be believed.
The most striking and admirable aspect of the film (for which the director and screenwriter deserve much credit) is the sensitivity with which Christine is approached; she is not attacked; her motives are not called into question; she is not caricatured; she is not labeled. This is a sympathetic portrait of a woman whose most overwhelming obstacle, unfortunately, was her own mind. The filmmakers take great consideration in illustrating Christine’s intellect, her dedicated work ethic, her ability to find all-too-infrequent enjoyment in life; when it’s shown, it’s precious and heartbreaking. “She deserves to feel and experience this more”, the filmmakers seem to be saying.
At a post-screening Q&A, the director was asked if he hoped the film would somehow re-ignite a national discussion regarding access to mental health resources, and Campos replied that if his film can save just one life, then he would consider that the most rewarding success.
Christine is screening at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in the competitive U.S. Dramatic Competition category and has been acquired by The Orchard (a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment) for a planned late-2016 theatrical release and awards campaign.
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Image Source: Sundance Institute