NVFF Synopsis: “Vox Lux” begins in 1999 when teenage sisters Celeste and Eleanor survive a seismic, violent tragedy. The sisters compose and perform a song about their experience, making something lovely and cathartic out of catastrophe — while also catapulting Celeste to stardom. By 2017, the now 31-year-old Celeste is mother to a teenage daughter of her own and struggling to navigate a career fraught with scandals when another act of terrifying violence demands her attention.
I don’t know how to talk about this movie without talking about the tragedy that the film hinges on. I’d read about the film ahead of seeing it, so I knew what to expect, and I’m not sure if that has clouded my overall thoughts about the film. So before I dive in, skip ahead if you don’t want any potential spoilers.
Okay, so here is the deal. Celeste survives a school shooting when she is in the 8th grade. At 13, she writes a song with her older sister as a way to cope with her grief. Even in the pre viral video world of 1999, video of Celeste’s tribute to her fallen classmates catches the attention of music producers who want to help this little angel find her wings. She and her sister are whisked away to Europe to record a pop demo and the rest is history. The next time we see Celeste, she is 31 years old and about to go on tour to promote her sixth studio album “Vox Lux”. On the morning of Celeste’s homecoming concert, another mass shooting rocks the headlines. The crux of this shooting is that the suspects were wearing masks like the one Celeste wears in her very first music video. Celeste is faced with coming to terms with her own grief while finding a balance between being an epic pop star and an advocate for victims of violence.
We don’t know everything that has transpired between 1999 and 2017 -- Willem DaFoe serves as an unseen narrator who fills in only the most needed details -- but we know that life in the music industry has turned Celeste into a cutthroat businesswoman who uses her history to manipulate those around her, including her family, her business team and the media.
“Vox Lux” gets under you skin. Celeste is difficult to like. She’s been through so much, but is that an excuse to be an asshole? She bills herself as a pillar of strength, but she doesn’t hesitate to play the victim. You want to be on her side, but you also want to watch her crash and burn just to see what happens next.
Natalie Portman delivers a ruthless performance. You can’t take your eyes off of her. She commands your attention. This is the reason this film is considered an awards contender. The movie itself is a bit hard to swallow. A fellow festival goer said “Vox Lux” is one of those movies that you have to be in the right mood for, and I have to agree. Especially when mass shootings are making headlines every week, this film is both untimely and spot on.
Even producer D.J Gugenheim, who chatted with folks at the Uptown following the screening, said the film is complex and may leave the viewer a bit shell shocked at first. “This movie is bold. It makes you think,” he said. “It took me days to process everything I watched to make sense of it all.”
This is coming from the man who helped make the movie, so I think that is saying a lot.
“Vox Lux” is scheduled to open in theaters on Friday, Dec. 7, but you can catch it on Sunday, Nov. 11 at the Cameo Cinema in St. Helena at 5:30 p.m.
Rotten Tomatoes current ranks the film as 90 percent fresh.