A blend of stop-motion puppets and live action, Theo and Celeste sees two friends asking increasingly absurd questions that then become a reality for them. Always beginning with “would you still be my friend if…”, we see them grow anteater tongues, have spiders fall from their mouths, and bodies covered in spikes. It’s a ridiculous premise, but surprisingly charming and effective when handled with the kind of care that director Hannah Dougherty gives it.

Originally made for TEDx Sydney 2018’s film program, which had the theme ‘Humankind’, the sweet, yet odd story sweeps you along like a strange dream. Theo and Celeste are childlike in the joy and excitement that their hypothetical questions create, but the ending leaves you with a real sense of love and longing.

Theo and Celeste may have been made on a tiny budget, but Dougherty and the wider crew manage to create some striking visuals. Beautifully painted miniature sets for the stop-motion elements are carried through to the live action scenes, with actors painted to match their puppet counterparts. Tiny stop-motion bugs crawl over the plants that surround them, flowers wave in the breeze, and birds fly across the sky backdrop. Colours change from a bright sunny day to a beautiful clear night, as the see-saw that they ride gradually gets higher and higher in the air.

With the aim of making the film look like “a two-dimensional painting in a three-dimensional world”, the painted scenery and actors make the film feel like jumping into a piece by Van Gogh. While everything is strange and other-worldly, the scenario of testing a friendship and pushing it to the extreme makes it feel like a very familiar tale. Theo and Celeste manages to deliver some pure, childlike sweetness in an incredibly short running time.

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INFORMATION

CAST: Duncan Ragg, Shannon Ashlyn

DIRECTOR: Hannah Dougherty

WRITERS: Duncan Ragg and Hannah Dougherty

PRODUCERS: Rona Lewis and Imogen Darling-Blair

SYNOPSIS: As Theo and Celeste play a game of ‘would you still be my friend if’ to test their new friendship, their hypothetical questions become reality, forcing them to confront their deepest fears and strongest yearnings.