A RADIANT GIRL – Review by Jennifer Merin

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French writer/director Sandrine Kiberlain’s stunning first feature, A Radiant Girl, is an intimate reveal of the daily life of nineteen year old Irene, who lives with her family in a comfortable apartment in a well-to-do Paris quartier.  Lovely Irene (Rebecca Marder) is bright and personable and pretty. For her, the future seems full of possibilities. She is hungry to experience life and she sets about doing so with appealing carefree abandon. She is passionate about theater, curious about love, finds joy in gathering with friends. She is a thoroughly engaging ‘every girl’, and you will enjoy her as she enjoys her life.

But, it is the summer of 1942. The world is at war. The German military marched into Paris in 1940, and have ruled the French capital ever since. Irene and her family are Jews whose civil rights and regular routine doings are more and more restricted day by day. Irene, in her energetic exuberance for life, defies the ever-increasing prohibitions Germans place on Jewish citizens. Irene is not fighting. She’s simply living, trying to follow a daily routine that brings her a sense of wellbeing and joy.

No specific spoilers, but this is a movie that reaches full force storytelling in its last five minutes. The lead up sequences charm you care and tease you to hope — although the devastating history of Jews who lived in Paris during the German occupation is well known. But, there is no way to anticipate the denouement of A Radiant Girl, which will break your heart.

A Radiant Girl is, in its subtle way, an alarming warning about our times: not paying attention to the erosion of civil rights and not actively resisting political oppression is an extremely dangerous course of non-action that can lead to disaster. It did in Nazi Paris. In might in radical rightwing America. And, for many people, perhaps it already has.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).