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Three sisters reunite after some years apart, for their mother’s funeral. Cressy (Rachael Maza), the eldest of the three, is a diva - an opera singer who is reluctant to visit the past and definitely doesn’t want to share it with her sisters. Mae (Trisha Morton-Thomas), has stayed behind looking after mum, and believes that Cressy hasn’t shared enough. Nona (Deborah Mailman), the youngest and the party girl, just wants them to all be one happy family. She may even help grow the family if her pregnancy test is accurate … Deep and dark family secrets and personal conflicts start to unravel, but not all is gloom.

"Louis Nowra’s script is terrific in every way, from the sharply observed and economical dialogue, to the structure that takes us through the revelations which eventually unite the sisters, revelations to demonstrate that ‘truth sets you free’. (It began as a stage play.) There is a joyous mix of the dramatic and the humorous, sometimes around the mother’s death. As the sisters have a pitifully small wake (no-one else attends the funeral service), one suggests a drink to their dead mum. "You don’t toast the dead," says Mea. Nona replies; "No, you incinerate them…" The film covers a short period of time in which the sisters undergo a change in their static relationship, and Perkins’ confident direction is filled with cinematic propellants. It is an engrossing film, often highly entertaining as well as thought provoking, and is saturated with humanity. There are no socio-political undertones, just contemporary characters. This is a marvelous debut for Perkins."
Andrew L. Urban

"Richly textured and coloured, Radiance is an exploration of human emotions, delving into the complexities of three individuals. The story isn’t new - sisters brought together by the death of their mother - but there’s a bold individual style in the way that director Rachel Perkins brings Louis Nowra’s concise and compelling screenplay to the screen. Beautifully shot with rich, warm tones, the images are indelible - strong, complex, cinematically intriguing - complemented by an evocative soundtrack which combines wailing guitar, opera and rhythmic passages. There is a sense of the dramatic which the use of opera particularly enhances; the scene where Nona, tongue-in-cheek, mimes to Madame Butterfly, is a good example. Undertones of conflict ripple beneath the surface as the outer layers are peeled away. The three lead performances are strong and distinctive: Deborah Mailman steals every scene with her effervescent persona, sparkling eyes and mischievous smile that would thaw an ice cube. Radiance is essentially a story about dreams, and individuals hungering for love and a sense of belonging. It is an effecting film that radiates with understated passion simmering below the surface. A single vision beautifully and powerfully realised."
Louise Keller

"Films about Aboriginal Australia are by their nature, political, but while Radiance delves deeply into issues affecting indigenous Australians, it's not a film that insists on hitting us over the head. More, it's a funny, deeply moving and utterly human story of grief, tradition and family, a masterfully directed gem from first-timer Rachel Perkins. Stunningly shot and directed with assurance by this intelligent young film maker, Radiance is a mature and meticulously crafted film. It also contains some of the most dazzling performances of the year, in particular Deborah Mailman who lights up the screen at every turn as the youngest sister Nola - a star is born. Radiance is an intricate, emotionally rich and exhilarating work which is destined for huge commercial success. And given the current political scene, its release could not be more timely."
Paul Fischer

"Louis Nowra's script, an adaptation of his successful play, relies for most of its effects on tried-and-true theatrical convention. It's a talky affair with lots of heavy symbolism and obvious devices – even a handy storm that traps the estranged sisters indoors, forcing them to confront each other. But as long-term resentments and shocking truths are finally spoken out loud, this very traditional brand of drama proves joltingly appropriate to its subject. Delayed revelations, arduously recollected family histories, repressed secrets about parents and origins – these tactics have all been used by playwrights for aeons, but they have a special relevance at a time and place where actual 'stolen children' are a recent memory, still far from healed. Rachel Perkins' economical direction brings Nowra's sometimes awkward ideas across with a sensuous immediacy. Viewers can almost bask in the glare of Australian light, both harsh and caressing, that suffuses many scenes and fully justifies the title; a sense of heat and dust binds together several key visual and thematic motifs – ashes, fire, sand, sun on brown skin. The women are written as deliberately contrasting types, and the film takes pleasure in accentuating their different physical styles, from swooping grace (Cressy) to plump kittenish sprawl (Nona). The actors bring a conviction to the material that makes the dramatic high points impressive and moving; they also get maximum value out of the blunt colloquial humour. A mixed bag, but the best Australian film I've seen for a while."
Jake Wilson

"Films about Aboriginal Australians are rare. Films about Aboriginal women are even rarer. And films in which the Aboriginality and gender of the characters is entirely incidental to the story are rarer still. For that reason alone, Rachael Perkins' Radiance is a welcome sight. The three women in this film are explored purely as real people; flesh-and-blood characters. The fact that they are Aboriginal or women is never shied away from, but it isn't part of any other agenda. The difficulty with Radiance, however, lies in the screenplay by Louis Nowra. The story is basically a rerun of Hotel Sorrento, another play, that was filmed by Richard Franklin. Three disparate sisters, a reunion, a family home by the sea, a death in the family, sibling rivalry, a confrontation with the past, pathos and melodrama - all the elements are there. As a result, the plot itself never really feels as if it's heading anywhere particularly new. Even the lead role of Cressy is essentially Meg from Hotel Sorrento. Perkins, however, shows the makings of a real talent. Her direction takes Radiance beyond the confines of its stage origins; including some brilliantly conceived outdoor scenes. And her handling of the climax packs a real emotional punch. She is also helped considerably by fine performances from her cast. Rachael Maza and Trisha Morton-Thomas are assured as the cool, distant Cressy and the repressed Mae respectively. But the real find of the film is a vibrant performance from Deborah Mailman as the feisty Nona. She really grabs the role with both hands and makes what could have been just another downtrodden female character role into something lively, funny and moving. Rachel Perkins is a breath of fresh air for Australian cinema."
David Edwards

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Editor’s Note:
We publish an unusually large number of reviews of Radiance – six - all by Australian reviewers; part of the reason is simply that we can: we have been inundated with reviews and unlike printed publications, we have no paper-based limitations. We recognise that Radiance is an important film and this internet business is forever. So it’s also a matter of record.

See David Edwards' interview with


CAST: Rachael Maza, Deborah Mailman, Trisha Morton-Thomas

DIRECTOR: Rachel Perkins

PRODUCER: Ned Lander, Andrew Myer

SCRIPT: Louis Nowra


EDITOR: James Bradley

MUSIC: Alistair Jones


RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes



VIDEO RELEASE: April 21, 1999

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