This is a wonderful and warm film about Irene, a 16-year-old girl, bursting with life, who is practicing for her audition to get into drama college. A Radiant Girl follows her as she annoys her brother, has her first crush, shares her secrets with her grandma, and embarks on the journey into the bright world of adulthood.
When you first see Irene, you can tell that the clothes are old-fashioned but your mind doesn’t immediately place the time. They don’t lean into being a period drama, showing it more as a family story with Irene at the heart. The buildings and settings all seem familiar, and nothing strikes you as the alien past.
So you are in quite a bit, having watched her run her lines with her friends, bam up her brother, and talk with her grandma about boys, when you hear her dad say, “Bring me the ID cards, they need updated with a new stamp”, and you realise it’s the 1940s and they’re Jews. Oh.
A Radiant Girl is about the life of a girl, not the death. It is a very warm and joyful story on one hand, but also a respectful attempt to show and celebrate the life of someone who might otherwise only be known for what was done to them.
Irene is a force of nature, fearless, energetic, full of love and life. She is playful, cheeky, and has youth’s intensity. She winds up her brother but is fiercely loyal and loving to him at the same time. She can always cheer up her worry-wart father. And she and her grandmother share the same rebellious spirit, keeping each other alive with gossip and excitement.
The other, the antisemitism, comes in so stealthily and suddenly, and in such weird and bureaucratic ways. And while it is shit, to Irene it has nothing to do with her, or her world, or her plans. It is not a new thing for Jews to face discrimination, be made to jump through legal loopholes. A stamp on a card, and eventually a badge on a jacket, is an irksome but not unprecedented event. Antisemitism has existed in societies for centuries, and though it ebbs and flows, people survive. What we know is to come seems impossible from where Irene stands.
A Radiant Girl is a wonderful film which asks us to celebrate the life of one girl, to share her joys, her hopes, her dreams. To laugh with her and her family, to sigh with her first love’s kiss, and to rejoice in her achievements with her friends and schoolmates. And not let the darkness eclipse her story, but let her take centrestage in her life. A magnificent film.