Writer-director Ben Hackworth said in a Q&A session after the first Adelaide Film Festival screening of Celeste that he had been heavily influenced by European cinema, where the narrative does not have to be linear and scenes do not always have to be comprehensible.
That may be fine when the result is great avant-garde cinema; however, Celeste is essentially a linear narrative with unnecessary scenes and plot developments that are not explored.
The story is melodramatic, with a widowed opera singer returning to the stage for a final performance after retiring early to live on a crumbling estate in a rainforest, and seemingly falling in love with her stepson, Jack.
Jack, meanwhile, is interested in a shop-keeper’s daughter and being inexplicably chased for money by two thugs.
Radha Mitchell is beautiful and has some good moments as Celeste, but the character’s non-stop anxiety, drinking and tension headaches are irritating. Thomas Cocquerel, as Jack, is a fine actor in search of a good script.
Together, this pair could have created a dynamic Freudian romance, but the dialogue and action never allows them to develop. Nadine Garner effectively portrays Grace, the friend who has stood by Celeste, and continues to hovers around, concerned.
Flashbacks hint at the past but do not satisfactorily explain the character relationships or their motivations, and ultimately the film fails to build to an emotional climax.
Where Celese does excel is its grand scenery. It is filmed in far north Queensland’s Paronella Park, an area of virgin rainforest (alongside the impressive Mena Creek Falls) which contains a mini castle built in the 1930s in the style of a Catalan castle.
Filming in this location would not have been easy, but cinematographer Katie Millwright has done a magnificent job.
Celeste will screen again this Friday at GU Film House in Hindley Street as part of the Adelaide Film Festival. See more Adelaide Film Festival stories and reviews here.