There may not be an obvious connection between musical drama Vox Lux from writer-director Brady Corbet and documentary Three Identical Strangers by Tim Wardle. But the two share one similar quality — they defy their genre. Both titles, released by New York-based distributor, Neon, were spotlighted back-to-back this evening at Contenders.
“My previous film was about the events leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and after that, I decided to return to America, where I’m from, and make a film about the events that define the 21st century,” said Corbet, who shared the stage with cast member Raffey Cassidy, who plays the young version of Celeste, the central character in Vox Lux.
Through the prism of a fictional rising pop star, played by Natalie Portman as the adult Celeste, Vox Lux turns the mirror on America’s real-life obsession with fame and its gnawing acceptance of gun violence.
After surviving a horrific school shooting in Staten Island, Celeste’s talent shines during a memorial service when she sings a song that touches the hearts of mourners. With the help of her sister and talent manager, she rises to stardom. Eighteen years later, however, Celeste finds herself on the comeback trail when scandal, personal struggles and the pitfalls of fame threaten her career.
“You have this character that’s been intrinsically linked to these events of the last twenty years,” said Corbet. “The film is structured like a fable — a dark fable — but a fable. What’s going on with the character inside is manifested outside.”
While Vox Lux tackles true overarching aspects of present day society through a fictional pop star, Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers tells the unbelievably true story of triplets who found each other by chance years after being purposely separated at birth. Their fantastical reunion as young men brought the trio an element of fame in New York where the local press lavished attention on a story that was stranger than fiction.
After their initial reunion, the good times rolled, but the circumstances surrounding their separation began to haunt the brothers even as personal demons eventually cast a very dark shadow over the trio.
On stage at the DGA today, two of the brothers, David Kellman and Robert Shafran, said that others had approached them about doing a documentary, but they resisted until they were finally persuaded by British filmmaker, Tim Wardle.
“For a number of reasons, we were hesitant to commit,” said Kellman. “But once we saw what he was about, we were all really into telling this story too.”
“I got engaged, married and had one child in the time it took me to [persuade] these guys to agree on making this film,” said Wardle. “Trust is everything in documentary. What was extraordinary with this was that when they did finally commit, they gave everything emotionally. You can have a narratively accurate film, but without the motion, you don’t have a great story. These guys went to dark places.”
[Spoiler Alert]: The adoption agency that found the brothers new families had a stipulation for their new parents, which was to visit the children from time to time. Ostensibly it was to check on their well-being, but there was much more to their motives. All three had been adopted by families from different socio-economic backgrounds, and their upbringings became a living laboratory for social experimentation.
“Normally when you finish a film, it’s out there, but this is still evolving,” said Wardle. “I had a call from a lady after this film was finished and she told me about taking a DNA test that matched a woman — her twin — in California. It’s because of [the brothers] telling their story that others have come out [under similar circumstances]. And I don’t think we’re done.”