“Vox Lux” uses the rise and fall of a self-destructive pop star to analyze the past decade or so of school shootings, economic malaise, and global terrorism. Brady Corbet’s sophomore feature is one of the first works of art to truly contend with the post-Columbine, post-9/11 age of anxiety, as well as the celebrity culture that has played like a soundtrack to this turbulent era.
“As Americans and as citizens of the world, we have endured a lot in our recent history,” Corbet told Variety. “I just think it’s important for everyone who sees this film to think about all we’ve been through and kind of own it. It’s not been a beautiful generation. We’ve been living through an obscene and absurd political system long before Donald Trump came to power.”
“Vox Lux” earned rave reviews when it debuted at this week’s Venice Film Festival and it hopes to score a distribution deal after it screens at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday. Producer Gary Michael Walters says the film announces Corbet as an important cinematic talent.
“He’s a strong new directing voice,” said Walters. “Brady’s going to be a real auteur.”
If “Vox Lux” does enjoy a big sale, it will be in large part thanks to the transformative performance of Natalie Portman, who plays the brash pop diva at the center of the film. Her messy fall from grace is reminiscent of the very public meltdowns suffered by the likes of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, but Corbet said the character isn’t based on any specific cautionary tale.
“It’s an amalgam,” he said. “Many of these people have the same story. They sign with a major label who puts them through this ordeal of doing 130 shows a year, and there’s no way to do that in a healthy way. So they’re drinking too much or their abusing cocaine. It’s not a life. And then we f—ing crucify them when they have a tantrum in public.”
In “Vox Lux,” Portman’s character Celeste survives a brutal school shooting and becomes an icon after she composes a song about her experience. Having made it big, she descends into a morass of booze and bad decisions. Her comeback threatens to be undid when questions arise about whether her music inspired a terrorist attack in Croatia.
Corbet first turned heads as a director with his feature debut, “The Childhood of a Leader,” which documents the early years of a fascist leader. The film earned prizes at Venice, but struggled to get distribution. It found one important champion in the late director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”), who used his Rolodex to draw attention to the film. Demme died of cancer and heart disease in 2017. “Vox Lux” is dedicated to his memory.
“He was so kind to me at a moment in time when very few people were open-hearted to what I was doing,” said Corbet. “When this movie was finished, I just really wished I could have shown it to him.”
Corbet didn’t began his career directing. He was a well-known actor, who worked for the likes of Michael Haneke in “Funny Games” and Olivier Assayas in “Clouds of Sils Maria.” However, Corbet hasn’t been on screen since 2014, preferring to devote his energy to writing and directing.
“I just felt done with that,” he said. “I wanted to move into a new phase of my life.”
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