Film review: Celeste
A renowned opera diva who retired early to live on a crumbling estate in the Queensland rainforest is set to return to the stage for her final performance.
Celeste has a distinctly Queensland flavour – set in the iconic Paronella Park near Innisfail and directed by Brisbane-born Ben Hackworth (son of Eat Street founder Peter Hackworth) – it is, if nothing else, a stunningly beautiful advertisement for tropical north Queensland.
The film follows Celeste (Radha Mitchell), a 40-something opera singer, as she prepares to make a comeback after a decade of self-imposed isolation following the death of her husband. Celeste uses the opportunity to attempt to reconcile with her estranged step-son Jack (Thomas Cocquerel), who fled the family home at Paronella Park after his father’s death.
The decaying, vine-covered turrets of Paronella Park’s 1930s Catalan-style castle provides a dramatic backdrop for the convoluted relationship between Celeste and Jack. Filming in this location would not have been easy, but cinematographer Katie Millwright has done a spectacular job of capturing the serenity of the tropical rainforest that is the star of the film.
The first act of the film is slow with a miserable Celeste swanning around her beautiful castle and barely able to function without the help of her live-in friend Grace, who seems to single-handedly run the estate. Jack is the stereotypical brooding and hot-headed tradie with plenty of sexual allure but few redeemable qualities. He’s also inexplicably being chased by thugs (including Shake & Stir Theatre Co’s Bryan Probets) to whom he owes a large amount of money.
The many melodramatic flashbacks hint at character motivations but their backstories aren’t satisfactorily explored, leaving the audience in the dark about events that directly relate to key plot points. One such flashback suggests that Jack’s father’s death is caused during a confrontation about an illicit relationship between a then 15-year-old Jack and the much older Celeste which, if this interpretation is correct, changes how the audience views both Jack and Celeste in subsequent scenes.
What should be a highly emotive final act fails to deliver as the audience is still trying to figure out the dynamics of the relationship between the main characters.
Regardless of the conclusion you drawn about Jack and Celeste’s relationship, both past and present, the real star of the film is Paronella Park in all its glory – by the end of the movie you’ll want to book a trip to tropical north Queensland.
Final rating: 3/5
Radha Mitchell, Thomas Cocquerel, Nadine Gardner, Odessa Young.
If you like this, try:
Wuthering Heights, The English Patient, Corroboree.