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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.

Review by Louise Keller:
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 by Warwick Thornton, 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 particularly enhancing the use of opera; 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.

Rachel Perkins explains that Radiance is not the usual kind of Aboriginal story, in an excellent 15 minute behind the scenes featurette that deals with not only the characters’ challenges and turmoils, but using social and political material to inform. Insightful on-set interviews from Rachael Maza, Deborah Mailman and Trisha Morton-Thomas give more information about the characters in this tale in which the three sisters struggle to come to terms with each other in this dysfunctional family. 'She's a bit of a scatterbrain, a bit of a party girl, but she is very street wise,' says Deborah Mailmain of her Nona. The humour is strong and very black: 'You spilt Mum on the floor,' she complains, as the tussle between the sisters for the ashes ends in disaster. 'I'll have to tell the laundry that's not a stain, that's my Mum,' Rachel Maza's Cressy joins in.

The interviews (with the actresses, Rachel Perkins and writer Louis Nowra) are in-depth and excellent. Louis Nowra talks about what inspired the original story; the development of the play into a film, the casting process, key themes and issues explored. He laughs when he recalls the challenges and how they came to the decision to follow Nona’s progress. Film is ruthless, he says, and you have to have an actress who is the right age – unlike on stage. ‘And Deb Mail captured it perfectly.’ ‘It's a ghost story,’ he says. ‘How the ghost of the mother affects the girls. They can no longer argue with her. What is it that connects us? Blood? Similarities?’

Published November 20, 2003

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

DIRECTOR: Rachel Perkins

SCRIPT: Louis Nowra (adapted from play by Louis Nowra)


RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews with cast/crew; trailer; featurette; photo gallery


DVD RELEASE: November 19, 2003

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