(Antonio Campos, 2016)
Christine screens at the AMC River East 21 on Saturday, October 15 at 5:45PM and Sunday, October 16 at 8:15PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
Coined by David Foster Wallace, the fraudulence paradox posits that those who place the effort to appear more impressive or attractive to people end up feeling less impressive and less attractive inside – you are a fraud. Imagine the unceasing emotional agony that comes from this mode of self-conscious doubt. I’ve imagined it. It’s troubling and joyless, an obstacle of early adulthood that takes the strongest of constitutions to clear.
We know how Christine Chubbuck’s story ends. It’s because of its ending that it has entered popular discourse. What director Antonio Campos and writer Craig Shilowich do with Christine is less a matter of why but rather when. This is a film about a time and a place, about the unendurable sexual politics that women were confronted with in the 1970s, and about maintaining a code of ethics in an industry where that’s considered a defect. Christine (Rebecca Hall) is first seen rolling film on herself, recording a faux-interview. We see her on a monitor, unaware that there’s no one on the periphery of the frame. As her colleague Jean (Maria Dizzia) walks in, the frame captures her in living color, alone. Christine asks Jean for a critique, inquiring about the impact of every gesture from the flip of her hair to how sympathetic she appears. Right from the start we’re introduced to a lonely woman who exists outside of her body; someone who understands herself on a purely spectatorial level.
This is my first experience with Campos and I’m completely taken aback by his formal IQ. Every frame is richly composed, informed by careful decisions that reflect the self-doubt of his characters – this is a film that makes very distinct gestures between what’s viewed through the lens of television and what’s being observed through Christine Chubbuck’s point of view, with the two images often functioning as contradictory.
While some may suggest that the film builds toward its cataclysmic suicide, Campos and Shilowich are more concerned with the methods in which people cope with their self-doubt and depression. For a film so rigidly composed and anchored by a calculated performance, I found Christine to possess startling moments of emotional clarity. Riddled throughout the film you’ll see men and women attempt to console their own anxieties through alcohol, transactional analysis, and diet. Christine dabbles in almost all of their methods of coping but ultimately finds herself more isolated than before; she cannot be the person that everyone else wants her to be. Existence breaks her down in an awful way. With her belief system compromised, Campos and Shilowich position Christine’s suicide as a gesture made out of necessity - as a kind of terror that only seems slightly more endurable than living. Christine is not a pleasant film, but it’s an emotionally generous one. You end up seeing pieces of yourself littered throughout and confront certain harsh truths on the kind of person you are and the one you project.