London Film Festival 2016: Christine dir. Antonio Campos

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“You’re not always the most approachable person.” “Maybe you’re just not approaching me in the right way.”

 

We’re going to spoiler you right from the start: things do not end well for Christine. But you’d already have guessed that if you knew the film was based on the true case of a newswoman who in the 70s, who committed suicide live on television. What purpose then, does such a film serve if we already know how it ends?

Director Antonio Campos enters into a character study of the mystery behind Christine’s death, attempting to show how she might have come to her final decision. Campos finds his muse in the form of Rebecca Hall, who delivers a performance that swerves from darkly humourous to tragic. Hall of course, plays the ill-fated Christine Chubbuck, who has recently transfers to a smaller news station in Sarasota, Florida from Boston (due to a breakdown).

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Hall’s rendition of Christine is heavily guarded, her face locked in an almost constantly tense expressionChristine is portrayed as an intelligent, organised and driven career woman, wanting to focus on her positive human interest stories and anchor more stories. The film in fact, opens with a closeup of Hall practicing for an interview in front of the camera, concerned with minute details such as the way she poses on camera, or the fact that the flowers on the table are fake. She’s also a community worker, preparing and acting out puppet shows for local children, often with a lesson to be gleaned, a la Sesame Street.But beyond the seemingly stable life Christine leads, there is a darkness that is constantly bubbling beneath the surface. She has no real friends, pines for gorgeous George (Michael C. Hall) at work, possesses an unstable relationship with her mother and hasn’t led a news story in more than a month. All of this begins to spiral out of control when a bigwig from Maryland comes down to Sarasota to headhunt talent to bring back home, leading to Christine’s increasingly desperate attempts to prove herself worthy to her boss, from listening in on police walkie talkies, to an ill-conceived and executed Big Brother type segment leading to a climactic breakdown at the TV station. For Christine, things only keep getting worse and worse.

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Campos’ Christine is great at leaving the audience on emotional tenterhooks. At one point, Christine’s luck looks as if it’s about to change when she finally manages to go on a date with gorgeous George, only to later find out he’s taking her to a group therapy session, with slightly frustrating and ridiculous methods. This is made even worse when it’s revealed that George was the one handpicked to be sent to Maryland, and Christine drives down to the bigwig’s house to attempt to convince him to choose her as well, to no avail. Hall very easily gains the audience’s sympathy, and throughout the film, it’s plain to see how it seems as if the entire world is against her, driving her into a corner to finally commit suicide. Even though you know it’s going to happen at the end, there’s still a shock factor when she finally pulls the trigger, and a deep sense of loss for the woman we’ve just spent the last two hours getting to know.

Campos’ film masterfully paints an intimate portrait of a woman of mystery, carefully building up a fully-realised human being’s life whose legacy was previously only defined by her death. Christine is a darkly comic look at how life can get to the very best of us, and I left the cinema with a heavy heart, glad to know more about Chubbuck but also in fear that much of the film remains relevant even today, that in this dog-eat-dog world, more and more Christines are being created everyday. All in all, an absolutely spectacular cinematic work that leaves you a little hollow, but also a little more empathetic.

Christine plays on 6, 7 and 10 October at various venues. Tickets available here.

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