A Radiant Girl (Une jeune fille qui va bien) takes place in occupied France during 1942 but the film takes a unique approach to the Shoah.
There are so many stories about the Shoah. When it comes to young women, Anne Frank’s story is a big one. But for Jews living in France, The Journal of Hélène Berr is also of prominence. This book is also listed in the credits and regrettably, this week is the first I’ve heard of it. Anyway, these books help set the tone for what life was life for teenagers during the era. When it comes to the film itself, filmmaker Sandrine Kiberlain imagines what life was like for her grandparents in 1942. Her parents wanted to be actors and of course, Kiberlain is also an actress. This film marks her feature debut and ultimately, it’s about a young woman wanting to become an actress. The Nazi occupation of France just happens to be used as the backdrop. More on this in a few.
Irene (Rebecca Marder) is a 19-year-old young Jewish woman living in Paris. Her family has a close watch on her especially with everything going on around. Things might not appear serious at first. Knowing what we know about France in 1942, you can’t help but feel for her father, André (André Marcon). André has a different sensibility than either of Irene’s grandmothers, one of whom is Marceline (Françoise Widhoff). This is especially true when we see André’s anger on display when Irene comes home late one night. It’s an era without cell phones, yes, but because of the Nazis, Jews couldn’t own any phones. No contact with the outside world. The other thing is Irene’s frequent fainting. Is this because of anxiety over what is going on? Possibly.
Irene puts a lot of her effort into landing an audition. At the same time, she’s also falling in love with Jacques (Cyril Metzger) after they meet at a doctor’s office. It might end up being a doomed relationship but we do not know. Time will tell what happens but for now, Irene just wants to live her life without any fear. Fear may be lurking around the corner but this film takes a unique approach in that regard. Her brother, Igor (Anthony Bajon), doesn’t get as much screen time but there’s one musical scene here that offers some liveliness during an era of pending doom. Kiberlain makes sure to honor the Righteous Among the Nations. This tribute comes by way of a neighbor, Josiane (Florence Viala).
Sandrine Kiberlain takes an approach to Shoah era films that we rarely see on screen. While we don’t see the Shoah in all of it’s horror and atrocities, Kiberlain offers audiences just a mere glimpse into Jewish life. Obviously, it’s looming in the background but the antisemitism is especially prominent in some scenes. Nothing like people giving Irene stares or turning her away because she’s Jewish! Even though we don’t see the SS, Nazi flags, or raids, audiences will still be able to feel the tension coming through the screen. This is certainly a choice that other filmmakers might not make. Because of this, the focus is allowed to remain on Irene, her family, and friends. There’s rarely a moment where the camera isn’t following Irene around.
Rebecca Marder is marvelous in the leading role of Irene and delivers a star-making performance in A Radiant Girl. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Marder becomes the next European actress to breakthrough into American cinema. This isn’t a matter of if but when.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Sandrine Kiberlain
CAST: Rebecca Marder, André Marcon, Anthony Bajon, Françoise Widhoff, India Hair, Florence Viala, Ben Attal, Cyril Metzger, Jean Chevalier