DIFF Review: ‘Radiator’ Is The Festival’s Grand Jury Winner

Greetings again from the darkness. The feature film debut of writer/director Tom Browne might be best suited to live theatre, though it works just fine on the silver screen. So fine in fact, that is was named the Grand Jury winner at the Dallas International Film Festival. On the surface it looks like yet another glimpse at the miseries of aging; however, it doesn’t take long before we viewers are entangled in this three-headed web of marriage, family, dominance and the struggles of growing old and losing control.

Fortunately the bleak subject matter is juiced with enough dark comedy that we actually laugh out loud periodically, while other times we manage at a smile for the smattering of sweet moments. Daniel (played by co-writer Daniel Cerqueira) is beckoned to the rural family home by his mother Maria (Gemma Jones) as she finds herself at a loss on how best to deal with Leonard (Richard Johnson), her husband and his dad.

This is a towering performance from Mr. Johnson, and he plays it full hilt as some odd type of tyrannical tragedy. See, Leonard’s reign as a force in family and life is now relegated to wallowing in his own sorrow, pain and feces while committed only to lying prone on the sofa and bossing his wife about the house with menial tasks for which he demands perfection. When Daniel arrives, he is taken aback by the squalor and demeanor of his once powerful father. He does what any of us would do … he takes control by ordering a hospital bed, getting dad cleaned up, etc.

As viewers we initially see things through the eyes of Daniel and Maria – on the wrong end of Leonard’s demeaning abuse. Somewhere along the way, there is a subtle shift in viewpoint and tone. The roots of love and marriage are revealed to run inordinately deep after so many years. An act of cruelty can somehow be forgotten and life can move on … even after situations that might never survive a shorter-term relationship. This shift is brilliant writing, and at a level we don’t typically see in movies.

In fact, the film seems to disprove one of its more poignant lines: “The black moments smother any flicker of light”, and instead builds on another: “Just because someone changes, doesn’t mean you stop loving them”. You will likely recognize all three lead actors, and each of them deliver excellent performances. Despite the subject matter, my takeaway is actually summed up in yet another line from the film … “I remember so much pleasure”.

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