Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
RADIANCE (VERS LA LUMIÈRE)
Blindness portrayed in cinema runs the gamut from THE MIRACLE WORKER, to WAIT UNTIL DARK, to A PATCH OF BLUE, to BLINDNESS. It might be used as a metaphor, or maybe it’s used in the literal sense. Filmmaker Naomi Kawase paints her portrait of the disability in a way we rarely see – as a pensive, poetically lyrical and ethereal drama. While it never so much as dips its toe into cloying, melodramatic waters, the thoughtful rumination does embrace sentimentality and earnest intentions.
Misako (Ayame Misaki) works as an audio-scripter for films for the visually impaired – and she’s about to experience something she can’t describe. At a focus group for her latest translation, she meets Masaya (Masatoshi Nagase), a renowned photographer battling a slow degradation of vision. Not only is he about to take a massive hit to his livelihood, but the emotional toll is wreaking havoc on his personal relationships. Misako, too, is facing struggles of her own, grieving her recently deceased father and bearing the brunt of stress caused by her mother’s senility slowly slipping away. The pair start off as adversaries; however, they quickly learn to find their way through the dark together.
Though the initial premise hints at a cutesy romcom, blessedly, it doesn’t become that. It also commendably avoids Hollywood’s cliché, and doesn’t use the disability for a story that’s merely “inspiration porn.” Kawase’s vision is far more refined and restrained in order to make the genuine emotional release really shine through. Her composition is sublime, working frequently with close-ups. Her beautiful, transcendent cinematography provides somewhat of a fascinating juxtaposition to Misako losing her perspective (in the metaphorical sense) and Masaya losing his sight (in the physical sense). When these two are left grieving, the sunlight in effused in warmth and hope. Sound also comes into play as their more dominant sense. The sounds of water – a symbol for rebirth – come through, whether that be the rain on the streets or the stream near Misako’s mother’s home.
That said, it’s not perfect. There’s a predictability to the formulaic structure, making the audience feel constantly ahead of the plot. We know they’re not going to get along, before they start getting along and then inevitably resigning themselves to whatever sentence life has dealt them. Kawase frequently cuts away for elongated stretches to the movie Misako is describing. We know the purpose of this movie-within-the movie, but it’s not nearly as interesting, or thematically resounding, as the filmmaker seems to think it is. We’d rather be spending time with the main characters, not the figurative ones.
Despite the maladies that threaten to eclipse the narrative’s radiant glow, turning a blind eye to this feature would feel like a crime.
RADIANCE (VERS LA LUMIÈRE) played ColCoa on April 25.