Never has a location felt more perfect for a film than the Paronella Park does in Celeste. The Neo-Gothic tourist attraction, repurposed here as an expansive family home, feels made for this world. The contrast between lush rainforests and rivers and moss-eaten structures is both a rich visual treat and keen metaphor for the relationships between our lead characters.
It almost steals the film, and certainly the many darkened shots of the larger-than-life attraction feels more carefully crafted then the story itself. Celeste is certainly a victim of style over substance.
That's not to dismiss the film outright. Radha Mitchell's performance as the unhinged Celeste is worth the price of admission alone. She is wonderfully captivating as the retired opera superstar being reluctantly pushed into a comeback show, delivering a performance that captures the variations in Celeste's personality as she feebly pretends that she is holding everything together. There is a manic restraint in how Mitchell has Celeste grin and bear her way through her situation that holds you even when the story slips.
It's only when the story focuses on Celeste's recently resurfaced stepson Jack, a committed Thomas Cocquerel whose brooding performance has Hollywood leading man written all over it, that the poorly fleshed out plot rears its unfortunate head. Writer-director Ben Hackworth wants to keep what happened between Celeste and Jack vague, opting for ethereal flashbacks over actual information.
Given that the stepmother/stepson relationship is the crux of the film, the lack of background leaves it stubbornly distant despite the actor's best efforts. The little the audience is drip-fed arrives too late to provide substantive context, and never justifies the darker twists in their interactions.
Visually, Celeste perfectly utilises a secluded part of Queensland to its full effect, but gorgeous scenery can only disguise a weak story for so long. Mitchell alone holds what remains, delivering a complicated character in an entrancing performance that far exceeds the quality of the film.
Director: Mads Brügger
Running Time: 105 minutes
Rating: M (sex scenes & offensive language)
Verdict: Visually impressive but narratively light