Hounded by Hollywood!

Reel productions of real-life celebrities have always created quite a buzz in Hollywood and Bollywood. From Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of the celebrated anti-colonial nationalist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 'Gandhi' to the more resent performance by Rami Malek in his Oscar winning performance of playing Queen frontman Eddie Redmayne in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, stars have continued to dazzle audiences by giving life to real-life avatars.

Benedict Andrews tried his luck in this department with his 2019 production ‘Seberg’ which is inspired by the life of the actress Jean Seberg, a popular figure in the '60s. Seberg was illegally targeted by the FBI surveillance program COINTELPRO because of her support of the Black Panther Party.

Thus not only does the story center on the glamour world but it is more of a political thriller as well. It is known that no other Hollywood actress suffered from a combination of misogynist Hollywood politics and reactionary Washington politics than Seberg. The star of Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless’ suffered years of harassment and surveillance from the FBI – a series of incidents which contributed to her depression and was a factor in Seberg taking her own life in 1979. The tragic drama of Seberg’s life should make her a great biopic subject, particularly its amazingly symbolic early episode in which, playing Joan of Arc for Otto Preminger in 1957, she underwent a terrifying near martyrdom tied to the stake when the arrogant and reckless director allowed real flames to get too close to her. Yet the production based on this figure lacks soul though it features a heartfelt performance by its protagonist.

‘Seberg’ most finds its footing when it focuses on Jean herself. We empathize as she wends her way through a Hollywood that sticks her in misguided productions like ‘Paint Your Wagon’. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson and set decorator Christy McIrwin capture a sense of late-’60s chic without getting too campy about it.

Kristen Stewart delivers a promising performance by moulding herself into the shoes of Jean Seberg. She brings a sense of humanity to the character which shows that she has related to her role well. However even she cannot help reciting the flat lines penned in the dreary script written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. At the same time instead of letting actions speak for themselves the filmmakers tend to make the characters recite what they are up to in the story. We get Stewart noting that she needs to make a difference, that she is funding the Panthers or that she has been on the run her whole life, rather than using body language or metaphors to relate the situations to onlookers.

‘Seberg’ leaves a lot on the floor, even with its focus on only a handful of years. The actress’ affair with Clint Eastwood during the chaotic shoot of ‘Paint Your Wagon’, for instance, is never mentioned. However it is a fitting tribute to a woman whose life was undone over her desire to make a difference.

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