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A gray January morning in the town of New Brighton near New York. The bell rings, the first day of school in the new millennium begins. Music-lesson. Suddenly Cullen comes into the classroom and coldly shoots the teacher. The black-clad student is calm, but his intent is clear. Everyone is paralyzed with fear, only 13-year-old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) speaks up. “Do not do that. Let’s pray together. ”In response, Cullen shoots her in the neck.
Two different lives
Celeste survived. While everyone around her is worried, she is surprisingly indifferent to what she has experienced and begins to write songs with her sister Ellie (Stacy Montgomery) out of boredom. A little later the two perform one of them at a memorial service for the dead of the massacre, a catchy, sad ballad. A real hit. Demo recordings follow and suddenly instead of Celeste’s parents a grumpy manager (Jude Law) is always at the girls’ side.
Celeste doesn’t take it easy, despite her neck injury, which is always covered with a cloth, she does the hard dance training and video shoots. She just wanted to keep people from brooding too much with her music, to give them joy. At least that’s what she says to a much older post-metal guitarist with whom she is joking in a hotel room. She is well on the way to becoming a world star, at just 14 years old.
Jump in time: 17 years later, Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) is preparing for a huge homecoming concert in her old hometown. Her manager is still at her side, and she has become estranged from her family and sister Ellie. Nevertheless, Ellie takes care of Celeste’s daughter Albertine (again Raffey Cassidy, actress of the young Celeste). This is necessary because Celeste dominates the headlines of the gossip papers with breakups, escapades and car accidents. To make matters worse, her career is linked to violence again: On the day of the big concert, terrorists shoot holidaymakers at random on a beach in Croatia. They wear masks that are reminiscent of those from Celeste’s first music video.
Inspired by Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier
Vox Lux starts cruelly masterfully. The rampage in Celeste’s school is vividly staged, the images intense, but not voyeuristically exaggerated. Every camera setting is precise; someone here knew how to create atmosphere without being clumsy. How did the young director and screenwriter Brady Corbet manage it so stylishly? After all, it is Vox Lux Only his second feature film and the 30-year-old has actually been an actor for 19 years. He was mostly seen in TV series and supporting film roles – among other things with veteran indie provocateurs.
He took on roles in Lars von Triers, for example Melancholia or Michael Haneke’s US version of his macabre breakthrough hit Funny games. Corbet has undoubtedly learned a lot from these master directors. This is also borne out by the off-screen narrator, originally spoken by Willem Dafoe, who summarizes important stages in Celeste’s life and reveals information.
And if it had gone on as hauntingly as in the first half of the film, Vox Lux could have been one of the highlights of the year. But as soon as Natalie Portman takes on the leading role, Corbet seems to have lost his courage. He cliché portrays the 31-year-old Celeste as a stupid diva who trudges on stilettos through luxury hotel lobbies in a drug intoxication. If we didn’t know that she is supposed to be a pop queen, one could also mistake her for a worn-out grunge singer – somewhere between Courtney Love and Juliette Lewis. Is that supposed to have become of the phlegmatic 14-year-old? A barely comprehensible leap.
Sometimes indie is better after all
Natalie Portman is undoubtedly one of the most talented actresses today, but shoots here overactend over the target. The figure leaves her no other choice: The pop diva is supposed to be reminiscent of the crashes of real mass favorites like Britney Spears or Mariah Carey. But what is Corbet’s message? Celeste complains nonstop about the lack of music sales, the stress, the bad representation of the media, the challenges of motherhood – but exaggerates itself into a godlike gift from pop heaven. The script is not subtle in its symbolism. Corbet wanted to make the film contemporary with all his might, but completely loses focus. In Black Swan, also with Natalie Portman in the lead role, the ambivalent ambitious behavior of artists is better staged.
Who is to blame for Celeste’s misery? The school bomber, the music industry, their religious upbringing? Any explanation would be half-baked and the link between Celeste’s career and terrorism is nirvana. It was such a great idea! In the end it doesn’t matter, because Vox Lux fibrils into any stage show in which Portman von Sia (Chandelier) performs written songs that sound as empty as the content of the second half of the film. Before she made millions with Dudelmainstreampop, she wrote beautiful yet substantial pop music (Breathe me, Soon we’ll be found, Day too soon) – if only Sia and Corbet had stayed with indie and arthouse. Sia’s music like Corbet’s film would have done it well.