The Japanese director, Naomi Kawase, is a Cannes Film Festival veteran, and has had several of her movies play here. She has also been on Cinefondation and Short Film Jury in 2016. Her 2015 Sweet Bean (An in Japanese) - which was part of the festival’s A Certain Regard -- was a extraordinarily touching story of an old woman who helps a dorayaki shop to become popular with her yummy bean paste.
Equally moving is Kawase’s latest, Radiance (Hikari in Japanese), where the auteur takes us into the world of the blind and partially-sighted -- tracing the relationship between a photographer whose vision is fading and a woman who pens movie audio descriptions.
Kawase uses disability most artfully to weave a love story between Misako (Misaki Ayame) - who is writing a description for the visually challenged -- and Nakamori (Nagase Masatoshi), a celebrated photographer. He is one of Misako’s listeners. On the verge of blindness, he is caustic and angry. Misako has her own tragedies to grapple with: a father who mysteriously disappeared several years ago and a mother sinking into dementia. Perhaps these misfortunes push her to understand Nakamori’s frustration.
Radiance -- Kawase’s fifth work to debut in the festival’s Competition and a strong contender for this year’s Palm dÓr -- draws us softly into Nakamori’s and Misako’s world that sees disillusionment, rage and arguments till a chance meeting pulls them towards each other. An emotionally charged scene in which he feels her face is far more erotic than a kiss they share later.
Brilliantly photographed in soft light, Radiance is a work that haunts us with its delicate treatment and subtle messages. Something that is a typical Kawase, whose Radiance loyally follows in the path of her many films in the past, particular Sweet Bean.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the 70th Cannes Film Festival.)
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