The shared subject of two very different films in quick succession, director Antonio Campos’ dramatisation of Floridian television news reporter Christine Chubbuck, who in 1974 committed suicide live on-air, is a heartbreaking and startling work indeed. Unlike the particularly peculiar docu-drama Kate Plays Christine, this recollection of Chubbuck’s final months beautifully and unflinchingly taps into the insidious cycle of depression and alienation thanks to a career-best performance from Rebecca Hall.
Christine follows the titular character through an arduous and scattered private life, and a deep lack of fulfilment in her profession career. She strives to be taken seriously as a news anchor – to deliver quality coverage for the frequent audiences of her station – but feels as though her industry has become little more than an exploitive, commercial, and sensationalist cesspool. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is one of the many charming mottos thrown about by Tracy Letts’ grouchy station manager.
In a similar vein to Pablo Larraín’s piercingly intimate Jackie, Campos understands that the very root cause of the tragedy – which the famed footage became a grisly stain on broadcast history – is isolation. Christine feels as though her livelihood, even purpose, is being stripped away, and there is little she can do to regain a sense of control. Hall’s shatteringly brilliant central performance gives profound texture to this fated martyr by underpinning what makes her tick, and indeed how she processes her environment and the overwhelming detachment from it. Posture and body language speak at a reflective frequency to dialogue here; a shuffle in a seat, or a sobering downwards glare as painful and powerful as flying off the handle and spitting bile.
Craig Shilowich’s debut screenplay is fantastically arranged, offering the tight-knit band of performers – which includes a darkly humorous turn from Michael C. Hall, among others – a strong sense of physical and emotional coordination. It has the dramatic weight of theatre, but the spiking grit of arthouse filmmaking. C. Hall’s fellow anchor, George Peter Ryan, has a splash of Ron Burgundy about him; showy and magnetic in his smugness, serving as an alarming juxtaposition to the crumbling façade of Chubbuck.
Campos favours a similar visual composition to his fantastic Simon Killer (2012), keeping his framing tight and uncompromising, ensuring that every inch of his subject’s suffering is agonisingly squeezed. It is a technically accomplished, if somewhat unflattering film, but it never feels insensitive. There are lashings of scolding satire throughout, and the approach to really hone in on Christine’s psychological turmoil as opposed to the famed shooting ensures that she is humanised and sympathetic. We may already know her harrowing outcome, but the journey towards it is layered with pathos.
Christine is a deeply unsettling and often uncomfortable watch, with each chipping of hope feeling more traumatic than the last, but its also an extremely impressive, intelligently crafted, and empathetic character study. Hall’s profound and progressive portrait of a fated victim to corporate capitalism is quite frankly exceptional.
Christine is out now on limited release in the UK, and available to view via Curzon Home Cinema.