Film Review: Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg

July 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

Released: September 2014; Documentary; Written by Kelly Rundle, Tammy Rundle, Gary McGee; Directed by: Kelly Rundle, Gary McGee

Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg is a fascinating, little peek into the world of one of America’s most haunted and beautiful actresses. Jean Seberg grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was discovered by Otto Preminger at the age of 17 during a nationwide casting call for his much-ballyhooed Saint Joan. The film was a critical ess-storm, but Preminger and Seberg got back in the ring for Bonjour Tristesse the following year. Although mesmerizing, and more of a critical darling than SJ, Tristesse didn’t quite provide the professional boost Seberg was after. Finally, in 1960, with Jean-Luc Godard at the helm, she made the French New-Wave masterpiece Breathless, and became an adopted daughter of the French cinema and a Hollywood sensation in one fell swoop. As the story typically goes, though, Seberg’s personal life went…awry. She married the wrong men, made the wrong friends, and went head-to-head with J. Edgar Hoover.

There is a tenderness in this telling of Seberg’s story that lends itself to a broader sympathy for the actress. It’s not the most objective of documentary techniques, but it’s genuine and the sympathy isn’t just an act. The film backs itself up with a real humdinger of a tale about the aforementioned Mr. Hoover and his neutralization of Seberg that’ll make you weep.

It’s clear here that the real beauty of Jean Seberg was in her intentions. Set against a backdrop of footage, old photos, and gentle conversations with her nearest and dearest, Seberg’s pure objectives are apparent. Her sister, high school drama teacher, friends made later in life, and extended family remember Seberg vividly and fondly, and that’s the real meat of the film. The Jean Seberg depicted here was a woman who made decisions based on frank assessment of the trials, tribulations, and advantages of others, who loved with little limitation, and whose self-awareness seemed almost the stuff of legend, especially considering her place in the limelight.

The movie breaks Seberg down into personas (actress, activist, icon) and divides her life as such, but it also maintains a chronology so the end result denotes a growth through her personal roles. It makes for a sharply delineated film that maintains an uncluttered delivery.

A lot of the film is a montage of footage and photos, and the rest is composed of interviews and Seberg quotes which cleverly shepherd the viewer through her life’s roles. The interviews span almost two decades and include everyone from her sister to admirers, but no interview is without momentum. This is a smartly-edited film, ushering us from beginning to end and helping us to draw the only conclusion there really is to draw: that Jean Seberg was a well-loved woman who probably deserved a life a little more well-lived than she got.

In what amounts to a moving and (documentarians, take note!) comprehensive piece with a strong rhythm, Movie Star is an intimate collage. It is stirring, but not schmaltzy, revelatory, but not disrespectful. It is precisely the kind of documentary that results from the truest admiration of the subject.

– Leah Gehlsen

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