Proof that it often takes a director that doesn't come from the film world to uncover fresh looks at overly seen tropes, British-based art collective The Otolith Group venture into the tricky world of documentary filmmaking with this thoughtful, thought-provoking look at (literally) the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Commissioned by and for the 2012 Documenta exhibition in Kassel, The Radiant is alternately a meditation on the invisibility of major changes to culture and society and a warning against the dangers of nuclear energy.

     Conjuring a 1950s science-fiction feel as it evokes the shining promise of the atom (notably in the stunning archival footage from the building of the Fukushima facility), the hour-long feature slowly moves into a post-modern take on the 1970s paranoid thriller in its denunciation of Japan as a "guinea-pig" for the human effects of nuclear radiation in daily life. The general concept is that of Fukushima as a new Chernobyl, introducing a disquieting brave new world whose flaws and dangers can be invisible and will not be felt for years to come (making the footage of the resident that decides to stay and live in the outskirts of the plant as determined living proof of the consequences), a mutation whose consequences are as unpredictable as were those when the plant was constructed. 

     Though The Radiant began life as an art project, the end result is very recognizably a documentary, even if its roundabout paths into the subject and its slightly off-kilter approach indicate just how much this isn't a straight-forward genre entry. The power of art to intervene in the world is never overbearingly underlined but, instead, seems to grow out of the film's own construction as a relay between pre-existing and newly-shot footage, assembled together with a view to look at things in a fresh new way. Mission successfully, and disquietingly, accomplished.

Directors: The Otolith Group (Kodwo Eshun, Anjalika Sagar)
Camera: Sebastian Meyer, Anjalika Sagar, Jonas Mortensen
Music: Tyler Friedman
Sound: Vicente Gutierrez
Editor: Simon Arazi
Sound design: Mr. Arazi, Mr. Friedman, The Otolith Group
Producers: The Otolith Group in co-production with Blood Mountain Foundation, Project 88 and Zavod Projekt Atol, commissioned by Documenta 13 Kassel
United Kingdom/Germany/Hungary/India/Slovenia, 2012, 64 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2012 official competition advance screener, Lisbon, October 12th 2012


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