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MALTATODAY 9 June 2019

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8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 9 JUNE 2019 FILM FILM THE ascendant pop star film – biopic or otherwise – often follows as staid a formula as the most cookie-cutter of all Hollywood productions. From Bohemian Rhapsody to pretty much any other example of the sub-genre, we're used to seeing how it all unfolds: humble be- ginnings, sudden ascent, con- flict of values giving way to the inevitable fall before some kind of redeptive arc is allowed for our stage-hungry protagonists. But the young actor-director Brady Corbet – having al- ready perked interest with his adaptation of Jean-Paul Sar- tre's short story Childhood of a Leader back in 2016 – takes the path less travelled with Vox Lux, in which both Raffey Cas- sidy and latterly Natalie Port- man star as the small town girl (Celeste Montgomery) turned pop starlet (Vox Lux), with the former then reprising the role as her daughter once we fast- forward from the end of the last century and into 2017. Corbet's film – he also penned the screenplay, having co-written the story with Mo- na Fastvold – takes place in a world that's both fictional but queasily familiar. The opening sequence, ominously and tell- ingly taking place in 1999, is built on deliberately deployed echoes of the Columbine mas- sacre – and sadly, many sub- sequent American high school shootings of its ilk – which Ce- leste (Raffey Cassidy) manages to survive, though not entirely unscathed. Making her way to the stage in a neck brace in crutches to- gether with her sister Ellie (Stacy Martin), the duo regale a com- memorative vigil to her fallen fellow students with a song, which is captured by the cameras and goes on to attract no small amount of attention. Among those interested are a music in- dustry manager (Jude Law), who whisks the siblings across the world for a recording-and-con- cert tour that will, of course, ir- revocably change their lives. Fast-forward a few years ahead, and 'Vox Lux' is a solo brand now, with Ellie being left on the wayside, practically serving as a full-time babysit- ter to her sister's daughter Albertine (Cassidy, again). Al- ready on the verge of becom- ing little more than an elder stateswoman in her genre – think latter-day Madonna and/or Lady Gaga – Vox Lux's tour hits a snag after a terror- ist group commits an atroc- ity while donning masks that clearly evoke her iconography, creating an uneasy media spi- ral that threatens to seriously clip her wings. Operating on something of a fragmented pace that relies far too heavily on both Portman's excellent performance to carry it through – along with Willem Defoe's suave, wry narration – Corbet's second attempt as a feature film is an inconsistent patchwork whose parts are cer- tainly better than the whole. Portman is a delight to watch, for a start. While the campy bombast that characterises a large part of what Corbet's project is all about may not allow for much subtlety, here we get a rare instance of this classy, elegant actress ham- ming it up in her own way, and it's a darkly amusing indul- gence for all involved. By the same token, while its attempt at satirical resonance does feel slapdash, the scattered mile- stones of American atrocity – high school shooting, 9/11, media-friendly terrorist attack – make for a haunting collage when juxtaposed against the glitzy-but-grimy behind the scenes look into what goes on as Vox Lux preps a now-con- tentious final leg of a come- back tour. Powered by original songs from Sia (with a surrounding score by Scott Walker) and some appropriately glossy cin- ematography courtesy of Lol Crawley, Vox Lux does not quite announce Corbet as a new glittering enfant terrible of American indie cinema. But in its notable moments – of which there are quite a few – there are hints that he may just get there some day. While its structure and tempo may be a bit wonky, Brady Corbet's sophomore effort still makes for a darkly entrancing trip down the dark side of the modern pop star VOX LUX DELUXE IN FLUX DUMP TRUCK THIS SUCKS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The verdict Though all-too-often op- erating on the riskier side of ambition and hampered by an archly precious tone that might come as an indulgence too far, Brady Corbet's sopho- more effort remains a beguil- ing and occasionally entranc- ing trip through the dark side of the contemporary pop star. And its inherent patchiness is more than expertly held to- gether by Natalie Portman's thrillingly realised perfor- mance of the nervy diva as absentee mother, giving us something to gawp at while the film unspools on its edgily energetic trajectory. Vox Lux is screening at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta on June 14, 25 and 28 at 7.30pm Teodor Reljic ★ ★ ★ VO X LU X ( 15 ) Shine bright like a (blood) diamond A Star is (Re)Born: Natalie Portman is a joy to watch in this glitzy, haunting but unwieldy sophomore effort from young actor-director Brady Corbet

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