Vox Lux (4 stars)

Vox Lux

LFF 2018: Natalie Portman puts in a dynamite performance as a pop star with a past in Brady Corbet's sophomore film

Brady Corbet's second film begins in 1999 and ends in 2017 with a glittering performance from its dynamite leading lady Natalie Portman as pop sensation Celeste on her comeback tour. After a gun massacre at her high school, where she narrowly escapes death, Celeste is launched in to the music world at the tender age of 14 (Raffey Cassidy, playing the young Celeste). The world went crazy for a song she performed with her sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) at a vigil and embraced it as their own in their collective grief.

Narrated by Willem Dafoe and divided in to multiple acts, there's more than a hint of Lars Von Trier's provocative spirit in this tantalising and layered character portrait that boasts memorable and game performances from a cast at the top of their game. Jude Law in particular is perfect as Celeste's manager, chatting rubbish and blowing smoke. And Portman is in her element when Celeste is on stage, singing songs written by Sia, and behind the scenes, swaggering around like she's in In Bed With Madonna.

Thematically the film takes a thorny cavort through the changing face of fame, notoriety, violence, faith and worship over the last 18 years. Vox Lux begins in the same year as the Columbine massacre, its mid-act concludes with 9/11 and, by the end, a terrorist group has struck at a tourist spot.

At one point in the film, Celeste hooks up with a musician and they chat about how his music brings back memories of her school tragedy and she draws parallels between rock music and school shootings. It's a moment that reminds us of the conversations that actually took place in the mainstream media. Again, after disaster strikes in the present day, the focus is thrust back on popular culture, with drug addled Celeste asked for her insight on complex matters for delicious pull quotes. It all detracts from any engaged discussion about the issues at hand, and Brady's film places a spotlight on the gawking absurdity of it all.

Screening on Mon 15 and Tues 16 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival.

Vox Lux

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • Directed by: Brady Corbet
  • Cast: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy, Stacy Martin

Celeste (Portman) is a pop sensation on a comeback tour, who in her early teens survived a school shooting. A tantalising and layered character portrait with game performances from a fine cast; Portman is in her element and Law is perfect as her smoke-blowing manager.