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USA 2019
Directed by
Benedict Andrews
2019 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Synopsis:  The story of how in the anti-Establishmentarian 1960s the FBI went after movie actress Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) for her public support for the Civil Rights movement.

For most film-goers the name of Jean Seberg will at best be recognizable as the star of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960  Nouvelle Vague classic, A Bout De Souffle. The film made the 22 year old girl from Iowa in America’s mid-West a star but for Seberg it was very much a flash in the pan and her career thereafter was largely a string of forgettable and now forgotten films. She died aged forty allegedly by suicide in 1979.

Benedict Andrews’ biopic is not an overview of Seberg’s life but rather focuses on the relatively small window of her persecution by the FBI for her active and public support of the Black Power movement. It is a shameful story (albeit not quite, as the opening scene suggests, to the same extent of that of Joan of Arc) and a good case is made for the FBI being responsible for her mental breakdown, the death of her premature baby and so, ultimately, her suicide although, as she was found wrapped in a blanket and decomposing in the boot of her car with a very high percentage of alcohol in her blood how this verdict was arrived at I cannot say.

There is no doubt that Stewart’s contained but empathetic performance, aided by a stylish retro production design, captures the image of Seberg as an elfin, Evie Sedgwick-like ‘60s It Girl  but unlike, say, Renée Zellwegger’s turn as Judy Garland in Judy we have no real point of comparison or frame of reference by which to assess the accuracy of her title performance and in this respect Benedict Andrews’ film could as well have been about a fictional character even if the tragic denouement of the film has a greater resonance because grounded in real life events.

This is particularly so due to writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse’s script which tends to have its black characters talk in slogans and which, in what I take to be a case of artistic liberty, introduces the character of an ambitious FBI agent (Jack O'Connell) who is revulsed by the effects that FBI hounding has on the well-intentioned Seberg. These things tend to box-in Seberg’s story giving it a fictional feel, something which is ironic given that the point of the film it to bring home to audiences the actual facts of Seberg’s involvement in the times (of which, frankly, I was completely unaware and I’ve read a fair bit on the ‘60s).

Questions of fact of fiction aside Seberg is a solid film and Stewart’s heart-felt performance makes it eminently watchable.




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