CELESTE gets 4.5/10 Stagey performance

Directed by Ben Hackworth

Starring Radha Mitchell, Thomas Cocquerel, Odessa Young


An opera diva preparing a performance in the tropical forest of far north Queensland – such a concept feels original enough for a film. Although the lush greenery of this inner forest setting seems refreshingly unique (particularly for an Australian film), it’s just a shame that it’s the only unique aspect of this film – despite the natural setting, this film’s only organic quality is how wooden it feels emotionally.

The opera diva title character (Radha Mitchell) finds unlikely help with constructing the isolated rainforest stage for her performance, when her step-son Jack (Thomas Cocquerel) shows up, 10 years after his father and her husband tragically died. His time spent in this part of the country involves flirtations with local store worker Rita (Odessa Young), but his real love is with Celeste – it wouldn’t quite be an Australian art-house drama film without some soft incest.

Languidly pacing itself out, but not always with clarification (there’s not much seen of the father, not even in flashbacks), the film’s very deliberate aesthetics are as handsome and flawless as the cast. Each shot and each character’s gestures feel so calculated, it all contributes to a robotic human-less mood, as if this story is a dreamlike mimicry of real life. This world of romance is hardly spontaneous or exciting, let alone operatic, but overly-precisely staged.

Celeste may be ticking off some checklists that overly-serious Australian films tend to go for – to pad itself out with some shoe-horned conflict, Jake also happens to be chased down by some thuggish goons, intent on getting their unexplained money back. This plot tangent, like each story strand here, wraps itself up as unpredictably and expectedly as you’d expect.

It could be said that this icy drama film is without any humour, but the laughable flashback in the denouement, portraying the fate of the father, is meant to be the dramatic pay-off for this troubling story, but instead offers up what could be the unintentional laugh of the year.

Celeste is crafted with technical care like the stage Jake builds, but like the worst of opera, it’s far more disconnected from human drama despite the amount of effort is tries to make otherwise. Lacking in warmth and a human hinge to identify with, Celeste feels like an alien artifact in its natural environment.


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