Vox Lux
dir-scr Brady Corbet
prd Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Brian Young, Gary Michael Walters, Robert Salerno, Michel Litvak
with Natalie Portman, Raffey Cassidy, Jude Law, Stacy Martin, Jennifer Ehle, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Abbott, Meg Gibson, Micheal Richardson, Logan Riley Bruner, Daniel London, Matt Servitto
release UK Oct.18 lff, US 7.Dec.18
18/US 1h54
Vox Lux
Like mother, like daughter: Cassidy and Portman

law ehle dagoe
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Vox Lux There's a striking visual and tonal sensibility to this film that immediately grabs the interest. Filmmaker Brady Corbet makes the characters and situations almost overpoweringly vivid, soulfully combining the career of a musical artist with the long-term fallout from a tragedy. But Corbet has a bigger fish to fry here, boldly taking on popular culture at the point where news and entertainment meet.

In 1999, 13-year-old Celeste (Cassidy) survives a horrific shooting in her school. When her musical tribute to murdered classmates goes viral, Celeste and her big sister Ellie (Martin) travel to New York to record an album. Now working with a manager (Law) and publicist (Ehle), Celeste begins to study dance and choreography, developing a glam-rock persona. Years later at age 31, Celeste (now Portman) is a megastar on tour, trying to bond with her daughter Albertine (Cassidy again) while dealing with some intense media scrutiny, including an interview with a nosey journalist (Abbott).

The story is told in chapters, as God-like narrator Dafoe traces Celeste's evolution as a performer, with added home movies and B-roll footage. Cinematographer Lol Crawley uses documentary-style camerawork often in low lighting to pull us into each scene, creating an undercurrent of emotions. On the surface, the film is prickly and confrontational, depicting an artist's Faustian bargain with pitch-black humour. But it's also exploring how the media is obsessed with things from a celebrity's personal life to violent terrorism without looking beneath the surface.

Cassidy and Portman create beautifully haunted characters. Cassidy's youthful naivete gives the young Celeste a remarkable vulnerability; then as Albertine she's of course jaded and annoyed at her absent mother. As the older Celeste, Portman is confident and harsh, refusing to question her decisions. And she makes some seriously bad decisions. Martin is also solid as the marginalised Ellie, who has thanklessly raised Albertine and remained quiet about writing Celeste's songs.

There's a disturbing moment when a group of terrorists use Celeste's imagery as they attack a Croatian resort, highlighting the uncomfortable themes Corbet is exploring here. The unhinged nature of Celeste's superstardom is darkly troubling: Katy Perry/Lady Gaga teetering on the edge of a Whitney Huston/Amy Winehouse tragedy. In the final act, the film kind of gets lost down this backstage rabbit hole. But seeing Portman on-stage in full flow is utterly riveting (especially with terrific Sia-written songs), and the depiction of the true cost of her stardom is fascinating.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 4.Dec.18

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