Cinema should, ideally anyway, ask a question. The only question posed by Irradiated is – what was the point of all that? It’s more of a video installation than a film, and the 9am competition screening at this year’s Berlinale resulted in a noticeable number of walkouts, with more than a few journalists taking the opportunity to nap.
The piece is little more than a selection of archival footage about war, presented without description or context. There’s nothing recent, though: the Vietnam War is the latest inclusion. Alternating between three split screens displaying the same image (often with a slight variation in framing and timing between them) and a full-screen presentation, it seems as though Rithy Panh (credited as director, co-writer, co-producer and editor) is less a filmmaker and more a curator.
Panh’s circumspect input is essentially the insertion of brief sequences of actors in Kabuki-style makeup (making them look more than a little like the ghosts in the Grudge series). But all they do is wander around, looking baffled and anguished – much like the crowd after the press screening.
The selection of footage is undeniably harrowing and horrifying, and any other adjective that can be flung in its direction, with emaciated corpses being bulldozed into mass graves. The gravity of the imagery is not diminished by repetition. However, there are only so many shots of bombs hurtling through a black-and-white sky that a person can take.
The film is overlaid with narration, alternating between a male and female voice, speaking words that are meant to be profound, but come across as the worst kind of know-it-all undergraduate philosophy student (“Death is invisible in the sky”; “Under my earthen bowl is a dried leaf”). There’s an audacity that borders on hubris for even attempting a project of this nature, and its reason for existence could only conceivably be if it had something new to say. It does not. Despite its depictions of humankind’s capacity for pure evil, Irradiated is strangely reductive.
Irradiated (Irradiés) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.