Opening the Austin Film Festival is the relentless, stressful, and gorgeous Vox Lux. Directed by Brady Corbet and starring Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman, this film is labeled as a portrait of the 21st century. The structure, images, acting, and presentation all form a sensational yet brutal vision of the present, a vision that seems all too much a reality. Thematically, it is a film that refuses to be silent and demands to be heard.
We follow Celeste, the protagonist of the story, at two different moments of her life. The first part, set in the early 2000s, describes her traumatic past and how she used it to propel herself into a career of music. Following her rise, we jump to the modern-day to an older, rugged Celeste, one who has been through the wringer of fame and celebrity culture. Natalie Portman plays the older Celeste with fantastic eccentricity and instability. When I think of Natalie Portman, I do not think of character acting, yet she owns her section of the film with a brazen Staten Island accent and physicality that informs a lot of the untold parts of Celeste’s story. Raffey Cassidy plays the younger Celeste and then plays Celeste’s daughter in the modern-day section. She is the acting highlight of this film. The subtlety in her movements are so profound that she can create two distinct characters through seemingly little effort. Her control over the character carries much of the film. The supporting cast is also fantastic, with many of the characters being in both parts. Nearly everyone could play with their character’s transition and did so convincingly.
It is also notably gorgeous. Stars are a motif within the film and Lol Crawley, director of photography, incorporates them in so many unexpected ways. The range of scenes, from stadium concerts to diner conversations, are all shot with the same care and cohesive aesthetic. I was absolutely impressed. Director Brady Corbet’s vision is so clearly communicated through the images as well as the acting and story, it is hard not to realize the relevance of this film.
So in my review of Thunder Road I mentioned that a whole season of Oscar-bait would have to compete with the high standards of that film. Vox Lux already hits that. It packs a huge punch right from the start and never eases up. Even in the most quiet and mundane scenes, you are absorbed in the narrative. A damn good start to the festival.