MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 17, 2023: A RADIANT GIRL
There’s something incredibly poignant about watching someone happily going about their everyday life with no idea that history is coming for them, inescapably and inexorably. Such is the circumstance of Irène (Rebecca Marder), the young, exuberant, and Jewish main character of A Radiant Girl. That’s because writer/director Sandrine Kiberlain’s debut feature is set in German-occupied Paris in 1942, when being Jewish was quickly becoming very, very dangerous.
Nineteen years old and full of zest for life — especially when it comes acting, her driving passion — Irène lives with her older brother, Igor (Anthony Bajon); her father, André (André Marcon); and her grandmother, Marceline (Françoise Widhoff) in a lovely apartment in the City of Light. She spends her days polishing her audition piece for the acting conservatory she hopes to attend, laughing with friends, and flirting with the young men who catch her attention, especially handsome eye doctor Jacques (Cyril Metzger). She occasionally hears her father and grandmother discussing the increasing restrictions on Jews in Paris, but she isn’t one to dwell on politics or negativity, so she doesn’t take any of it too seriously.
But then her acting partner/classmate Jo (Ben Attal) stops showing up to rehearsals. And the family has to give up their radio and telephone. And the baker won’t sell bread to Marceline. And Irène might not be allowed to attend the conservatory even if she were to give the best audition of her life. And the life that once seemed so full of potential and promise is shadowed by uncertainty and fear. Through it all, Marder is every inch a relatable teenager, straining against boundaries, dreaming of the future, and eager to see what each day brings.
Kiberlain lets it all unfold gracefully, letting Irène’s girlish enthusiasm and innocence stand in contrast to viewers’ knowledge of the grim future in store for Paris’ Jewish population. As a result, there’s a tension underlying even the film’s lightest, sweetest moments — but that tension is exactly what makes A Radiant Girl so powerful. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nell Minow: “Radiant” is the mot juste for actress Rebecca Marder, who is enchanting in the title role of a young Jewish woman who is so caught up in her life as an aspiring actress and experiencing her first love that she does not pay attention to the way the world is becoming more dangerous for her and her family. Unlike most Holocaust dramas, which concentrate on the trains and the barbed wire and the starving prisoners, this movie shows us what happened before all of that, making the story real in a different way by making us care about the people who were lost
Leslie Combemale The original name for Sandrine Kiberlain’s film in French is Une Jeune Fille Qui Va Bien, which means A Young Girl Who Is Doing Well, a far cry from A Radiant Girl, the English title. The lead Irène is aggressively doing well. In fact, she is doing so well, that we as the audience following her don’t know for the first 15 minutes of the film that she’s a Jew in 1942-era, Nazi-occupied Paris. There’s a lot more being considered than just the experience of one WW2 teen, and it makes Kiberlain’s first feature an interesting study that couches present dangers in those of the past. As Irène, Rebecca Marder was nominated for a César Award for Most Promising Actress and has shown herself as a performer to watch.
Jennifer Merin 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 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 she is a Jew in Paris in 1942, and her future is…endangered. Read full review
Pam Grady: On the surface, Irene (Rebecca Marder) is having the summer of her young life as the aspiring actor prepares for an important audition and experiences her first real love with doctor’s assistant Jacques (Cyril Metzger). But when scene partner Jo (Ben Attal) disappears, and her family is forced to alter its identity papers and surrender radios and bicycles to the government, Irene’s cheerful exuberance is at odds with the dawning bleak reality of being Jewish in occupied Paris. No wonder she suffers from fainting spells. Marder is a force of nature in actor Sandrine Kiberlain’s feature writing/directing debut, suffusing the drama with charm and her character’s indominable optimism. The film itself is more uneven. Music that veers between an overly insistent Klezmer-inspired score and an anachronistic soundtrack that includes Tom Waits is intrusive and sometimes downright ghastly. And it is a curious decision to denude an Occupation film of its occupying force. It perhaps makes it easier to accept Irene’s carefree stance as the walls close in around her but there is something off-putting in that casual erasure.
Loren King What was it like to be young and spirited, with life’s unlimited possibilities in store, during one of recent history’s darkest, most inhumane periods? The lovely, surprising, assured French film A Radiant Girl poses such a question without pretension. Sandrine Kiberlain’s debut feature follows Irene (a magnetic Rebecca Marder) as she blossoms into young womanhood, pursing her hopes of an acting career along with love interests, casting off suitors and pursing others. Irene lives with and brings much joy to her father, grandmother and older brother with whom she lives. The film layers scenes of Irene’s normal teenage passions — rehearsing a play, applying to a conservatory, bonding with friends, teasing her loving, free-spirited grandmother — with the increasing danger of the Nazi occupation of France and the persecution of Jewish residents. Irene casually agrees to her concerned, compliant father’s demand that she follow laws such as wearing the yellow star on her clothing with the nonchalance of a girl on the move, eager to embrace the future. A Radiant Girl delicately and artfully immerses us in an ordinary, vibrant life. When it is so suddenly and cruelly interrupted, it is a jolt that remains long after the credits roll.
Jamie Broadnax A Radiant Girl examines the life of a free-spirited young woman named Irene (Rebecca Marder) finding the best of who she is in spite of the gloomy circumstances around her as a Jewish woman living in Paris in the 1940s occupied by a German military. Irene dares to dream of life as a theater actor and dares to love when she meets a handsome young man named Jacques (Cyril Metzger) who she falls head over heels for. Director Sandrine Kiberlain’s ambitious narrative is a bit uneven at times and the pacing is slower than I would prefer, however the story does cut through the core of how life moves in ebbs and flows for different people in spite of the circumstances around them. And it is how you deal with those moments that determine how you accept the cards you’ve been dealt. While it wasn’t exactly a homerun for me, in terms of how the story was told, I loved the idea of Irene’s story and what it brings from the perspective of women living in that part of region during the second World War.
Sandie Angulo Chen: It’s difficult to reconcile the story of A Radiant Girl with the everyday violence and terror that Jews around Europe experienced in 1942. Having just read The Nazis Knew My Name, a posthumous memoir about Magda Hellinger’s experiences as a Jewish barracks supervisor at Auschwitz, it’s initially off-putting to watch how luminously happy, flirty, and vivacious this film’s protagonist Irene is while living in occupied Paris. But, Rebecca Marder is so convincing (albeit willfully naive) as Irene that audiences will feel invested in her story. Director Sandrine Kiberlain pays tribute to a young Jewish woman’s joyous, artistic life while only obliquely referencing the horror we all know is to come (and is, indeed, already there). A different and powerful look at a beautiful life on the cusp of sorrow.
Liz Whittemore Rebecca Marder dazzles the audience with her inquisitive nature and infectious charisma. She steals every frame. The thoughtfully curated use of a modern soundtrack highlights Irene’s joyful energy. Despite the slow creeping of the inevitable narrative, A Radiant Girl is a perfect title. You’ll fall in love with this film.
Cate Marquis Writer/director Sandrine Kiberlain’s A Radiant Girl is a film that sneaks up on you, revealing only bit by bit what is really going on. In Kiberlain’s impressive debut film, we meet a lively beautiful young French girl, an acting student hoping to get into a prestigious academy and focused on preparing her audition. She is bubbly, charming and upbeat, as is the score and tone of this brightly lit film, but there is talk of learning German as we slowly figure out she and her Jewish family are living in France shortly after the Germans have occupied it. At first, nothing much changes, but there are rumors and her father worries. Still, the girl remains positive, just focused on her ambitions and some possibilities for love. By keeping a light, romantic tone to the film, one that reflects the girl’s attitude, Kiberlain nearly distracts us as well as things change, right up to the film’s startling ending.
Title: A Radiant Girl (Une Jeune Fille Qui Va Bien)
Director: Sandrine Kiberlain
Release Date: February 17, 2023
Running Time: 98 minutes
Language: French with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Sandrine Kiberlain
Distribution Company: Film Movement
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore
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Edited by Jennifer Merin