The film will depict the ‘Breathless’ star’s clash with the FBI.
Most film lovers are familiar with Jean Seberg as an American icon of the French New Wave. Even if you know her for nothing else, you definitely know her for her leading role as Patricia, the aspiring reporter and newspaper salesgirl pursued by charismatic criminal Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Seberg’s blonde pixie cut, striped shirt, and slim black pants in the film are still widely imitated, almost 60 years later. But there’s a lot more to the Seberg story than that timeless look, and it’s set to be the subject of an upcoming thriller starring Kristen Stewart.
The film, which was simply titled Seberg earlier in development, has now been christened Against All Enemies. I’m not a fan of the title, which sounds like it belongs to a paint-by-numbers January release starring Gerard Butler as a recently released convict trying to resist the urge to go back to a life of crime. But the film itself sounds rich in drama, heartbreak, and contemporary relevance. Set in the late 1960s, Against All Enemies will chronicle the period of Seberg’s life when she had left France, returned to Hollywood, and got involved with the Black Panther Party.
Seberg’s post-France life and career actually make for quite a fascinating, albeit tragic, story. She provided financial support for several civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Black Panther Party. Her donations to the latter and her friendship with members of the group raised the ire of the FBI and led them to attempt to defame and discredit her through the infamous COINTELPRO program (listen this You Must Remember This episode for the whole story). At one point, they even spread rumors that the child Seberg was carrying was not fathered by her husband, Romain Gary, but by a member of the Black Panther Party (listen this You Must Remember This episode for that whole story). The baby, a little girl, tragically passed away only two days after she was born in 1970.
Unable to obtain roles of substance due to being effectively blacklisted in Hollywood, Seberg’s once-promising career dwindled. After a brief disappearance, she was found dead in her car in Paris in 1979 at the age of 40. Her death was deemed a suicide and was accompanied by a note effectively explaining it as such. Gary blamed the FBI for her death, arguing that their persecution of Seberg — particularly the planting of the story about her unborn baby — had driven her mad.
Sounds uplifting, right? Yet Seberg’s story most definitely deserves to be told, especially in our current political climate. The way the US intelligence services were used to infringe upon Seberg’s rights, simply because she supported groups that advocated for other people’s civil rights, should be taken as a warning sign of what governments are capable of when given too much power over the people. It’s terrifying to think about, and it should make for a good movie, albeit a disturbing one.
Since Twilight, Stewart has proven herself as one of the most intriguing and nuanced actresses of her generation. Popular in France thanks to her work with French director Olivier Assayas, she is the only American to win a César Award, for her supporting role in Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria. The combination of Stewart’s transatlantic success with her pixieish, almost androgynous beauty makes it hard to imagine anyone better fit for the role of Seberg. Joining her in the cast is Jack O’Connell, who will play an FBI agent tasked with surveilling Seberg, and Anthony Mackie, who will play a friend of Seberg’s and member of the Black Panther Party.
Against All Enemies is set to be directed by Benedict Andrews, the celebrated theater director who made his feature film debut with Una in 2016. The script is from screenwriting duo Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, whose most notable credits include the Jesse Owens biopic Race and the upcoming sequel to Edge of Tomorrow. Based on who all is involved and the subject matter, Against All Enemies definitely sounds like a project to watch (even if the title remains terrible). Let’s hope it does justice to the legacy of one of cinema’s most tragic stars.