Review by Tatiana Miranda
Lately, movies surrounding the Holocaust seem to be a copout for award show nominations and overly dramatic performances. Unlike this trend, the French film A Radiant Girl knows when to focus on the individual rather than the big picture that is its period setting. Set in Paris in the summer of 1942, A Radiant Girl centers around Irene, an aspiring actress on the verge of adulthood, and her family. Focused on her conservatory audition and love life, Irene is seemingly unaware of the intense politics happening around her. Through hushed conversations between Irene's grandmother and father, the audience becomes aware of the family's secular Jewish identity and their subsequent fears as the French government becomes increasingly more concerned with their Jewish identity. Still, Irene remains almost naively focused on her own day-to-day life.
While A Radiant Girl's setting is clear by the end of the film, it is not always so, as the film cleverly uses more modern music and ambiguous costume designs throughout. By straying away from the usual habits of period pieces, such as intense costuming and aesthetics, A Radiant Girl allows itself to focus on Irene and her family rather than just the setting. It also allows the audience to have the same tunnel vision as Irene since the encroaching occupation isn't overly noticeable.
The main character Irene is bubbly and optimistic about love, her family, and her acting career. Her personality would fit accurately in a typical coming-of-age film, but in A Radiant Girl, it is a stark contrast from the darkness lurking that she seems to be unaware of. Even when her scene partner and crush goes missing, she doesn't linger on his disappearance and instead forges on, enlisting her best friend to help her with her audition scene. While this could make her seem self-involved, her family's lack of communication about the occupation and their identity allows her to focus on more trivial things.
Irene and her family always appear to be on the edge of happiness throughout the film, which makes the final shot all the more upsetting. Constantly practicing her lines and faux fainting, Irene's upcoming conservatory audition is the potential big break she's been waiting for. Beyond her career ambitions, she is also in over her head regarding her love life. She contemplates what to do about her young gauche suitor and stumbles into a romance with a doctor's assistant. Irene's brother and father are also shown on the verge of relationships, both doomed to end before they even quite begin.
A Radiant Girl is a captivating and entertaining character study that allows its characters to exist beyond their Jewish identity even during a time when it's being threatened. The film is just as hopeful as its main character up until the final shot when the audience realizes that there is no everyday life left for Irene and her family.
A Radiant Girl releases in theaters February 17.