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Celeste (Radha Mitchell) was once Australia’s most beloved opera singer. Yet she threw it all away to follow the man she loved to live on a crumbling property deep in the rainforests of Tropical North Queensland.
Ten years after his tragic death, Celeste is ready to make one final return to the stage. But her stepson Jack, still haunted by the past, arrives at her behest amidst the preparations for the performance and finds Celeste is as he remembered – beautiful, intoxicating and dangerous. But when she asks Jack for an impossible favor, the secrets that drove them apart explode back into rhapsodic life.
Here are 5 things you need to know about Celeste before it opens in cinemas this week.
1. Celeste is director Ben Hackworth’s second feature film
Ben Hackworth’s first short film Martin Four was official selection at 2001 Cannes Film Festival and went on to screen at over 20 international festivals. His Screen Australia-funded short film Violet Lives Upstairs won the 2004 Australian Film Critics Circle Award for Best Short Film and screened at major international festivals including Montreal, Sao Paulo, Mill Valley, Vladivostok and Palm Springs. In 2008, his debut independent feature film Corroboree was official selection at Toronto, Berlin, Melbourne and Sydney International Film Festival and gained much critical acclaim.
2. Director Ben Hackworth started working on Celeste almost ten years ago
Queensland-raised writer and director Ben Hackworth admits that it took some years to develop the story of a former international opera diva staging a one-off return performance in the crumbling ruins of the majestic rainforest home that she had shared with late husband, and her complicated relationship with the stepson who returns at her behest. In his original version Celeste was a supporting character in a story about siblings. But over several years of development, the siblings were dropped and it was Celeste who emerged as the focus.
3. Celeste is filmed at Australia’s famous Paronella Park in far North Queensland
Much of the visual style of Celeste was informed by the choice to make location a central character. The sprawling, lush and decaying Paronella Park estate in Far North Queensland is central to the plot and the psyches of its characters, living and deceased. The castle-like Paronella Park, with grounds of lush gardens, waterfalls and waterholes, was built in the early 1900s by Spanish immigrant José Paronella as a love letter to his wife. “I was intrigued about Paronella, how a place like this could exist in Australia, as a theme park or as a folly. An architectural folly,” Hackworth explains about the setting. “It’s kind of the absurd nature of this lavish kind of ruin or theme park or jungle pleasure gardens being built in the very parochial setting of North Queensland, which was all cane fields and cane farmers and sugar mills.”
4. Celeste is the second film Radha Mitchell and Odessa Young have costarred in
Although they only share a small amount of screen time in Celeste, this is the second film Radha Mitchell and Odessa Young have starred in together following Sue Brooks’ Looking for Grace in 2015.
Young’s previous credits include The Daughter in which she played the lead alongside Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto. For her work in this role she won best actress for the 2016 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA). In Looking For Grace, Odessa achieved great reviews for her portrayal of Grace – a 16-year old runaway alongside Richard Roxburgh and Mitchell.
Radha Mitchell continues to be one of the most versatile actresses having worked with some of today’s greatest filmmakers including Woody Allen (Melinda and Melinda), Lisa Cholodenko (High Art), Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth), Tony Scott (Man on Fire), Stephan Elliott (Swinging Safari) and Marc Forster (Finding Neverland).
Both Celeste and Looking for Grace are produced by Lizette Atkins.
5. Celeste marks the fifth time cinematographer Katie Milwright has collaborated with Ben Hackworth
Director of Photography, Katie Milwright, is a long time creative partner of Hackworth’s having shot four of Hackworth’s shorts previously. Milwright was completely absorbed in the beauty of Celeste’s location and how to frame it. She says the real sweat on the actors created a lustre on their skin that was enchanting to film. “The location itself is quite compelling and visual for a cinematographer, so the story combined with that part of the world was an exciting prospect. I felt like it was something I hadn’t seen before, so I wanted to be part of creating that.”
Milwright describes one of the days shooting a flashback of Jack as a child. “He’s walking out towards the waterfall in the rainforest and we did this beautiful moving shot with him. The sun was hitting the back of the trees in just that way that cinematographers love and everything seemed to be coming together. I just love those moments where something really beautiful happens and you feel like you’re in tune with nature as well as the performance and the way the camera is moving.”
Milwright’s credits include Looking for Grace, Ben Elton’s Three Summers, documentary Gurrumul and Netflix series Tidelands.
Celeste is in cinemas from April 25.