The story of a retired international opera star making her comeback in her hometown, Celeste is written and directed by Brisbane-born Ben Hackworth (Corroboree).
While Radha Mitchell’s performance in the title role is excellent, the exotic surroundings, which centre on the historic and languorous 1930s family residence Paronella Park, are even more inspiring.
Set in the lush and verdant rainforests of Far North Queensland, the film focuses on the world-famous Australian diva Celeste’s return to opera singing after a substantial break.
However, there is a dark side to the film, which is littered with flashbacks to the events surrounding the terrible tragedy that took Celeste’s former lover (Jack’s father) away from her in an untimely accident many years before.
After the accident, Celeste’s teenage stepson Jack (played by the impulsive Thomas Cocquerel) leaves the family home to strike out on his own and take up an apprenticeship in the City.
It is only after receiving a card from his stepmother that Jack decides to return to Paronella Park once again – arriving quietly and unannounced.
Moving back into his old digs at the bottom of the extensive gardens, Jack tries to settle back into the tranquil life of living in the idyllic Queensland rainforest.
Using his skills as a carpenter, he starts work helping to build the stage for Celeste’s upcoming operatic return, to be held at Paronella Park in a few weeks time.
Unfortunately Jack has brought with him some financial problems, and he is constantly looking over his shoulder in case the ‘debtors’ come calling.
Fortunately, however, Celeste’s best friend and confidante (efficiently played by Nadine Garner) has the presence of mind not to reveal Jack’s whereabouts when the bad guys do arrive – and she even helps Jack with paying them off – a very generous gesture indeed.
The undercurrent of tragedy running through Celeste continues however, and it is easy to see that all is not ‘rosy in the garden’, as Celeste continually fails to cope with the strain of the upcoming concert by drinking heavily and taking too much medication.
There is also another reason for this – which soon becomes clear later in the film.
Although the plot is at times confusing with many twists and turns, it is also quite entertaining: and the film is stunningly beautiful on a purely visual basis.
Of all the cast, though Jack – who from some angles resembles Australian star Sam Worthington, and at others a young Ben Mendelsohn – has the meatiest role, although Mitchell is certainly no slouch when it comes to portraying the deeply troubled diva.
Celeste commences at Luna Leederville on April 25, 2019
By Mike Peeters