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New Release Review - Piercing Brightness (DVD)

Debut film of acclaimed conceptual artist Shezad Dawood.

Directed by: Shezad Dawood
Starring: Houda Echouafni, Chen Ko, Tracy Brabin, Martin Clarke, Nick Cornwall, Samantha Elizabeth Edwards


The Movie:

Piercing Brightness is the debut film of acclaimed conceptual artist Shezad Dawood, part of an exhibition of the same name, but separate and not part of the show. 
Film and the art world have long been intertwined and cinematic installations are now common place as a vital part of the modern art scene. Dawood is one of an increasing number of artists who have moved from the gallery to the realms of commercial cinema, artists as varied as Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger and current release 12 Years a Slave), Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), Tracey Emin (Top Spot) and Matthew Barney (The Cremaster Cycle).
A benign alien invasion film set in Preston is certainly an interesting, whimsical conceit. Playful and light in concept but densely visualized and rich in subtext, it is an original and distinctive vision, full of interest and wonder but also curiously leaden and at times pompous. We follow Maggie (Brabin), a conspiracy theorist and UFO believer, and her daughter Nikki (Edwards), who begins a relationship with ethereal loner Lee (Derek Siow). We also follow an Asian couple whose behavior and attitude suggest that they may be literal illegal aliens, part of the Glorious 100 project, a race of people sent to observe the birth and development of another planet for the mutual benefit of both worlds.
It all sounds very "Mike Leigh meets Steven Spielberg", however Dawood has weightier themes on his mind. The Alien race adopt the form and personalities of existing people. It's telling that they adopt the personalities of the ethnic minorities of Preston. The blurring of lines between the immigrant experience of the Aliens and earthly inhabitants is powerful. As metaphor it is a little on the nose, but it works. Seen through the eyes of these visitors, Preston is an otherworldly place full of odd beauty and wonderment. If we visited Alien civilizations we would be starstruck. Dawood posits that an Alien eye would view this Lancashire City in the same way.
Piercing Brightness is also graced with some good acting work, in particular the performance of Bhasker Patel who brings a mercurial spirit and lighthearted approach to his alien as shopkeeper Naseer Khan. In many ways this harks back to the bold original creations of the heyday of Film 4 and when the BFI could fund new voices without interference and the need for commercial gain. It may not be a complete success but Dawood has more to say about the immigrant experience in 90 minutes than most staid docudramas provide.
This viewpoint is a strength but also a weakness. Depicting the city using the argot of the music video gives the film a disjointed rhythm. There is nothing inherently wrong with prizing the visual over narrative storytelling but in this instance it feels like a collage of distinct ten minute pieces that do not coalesce into a whole. We get a dance troupe of hoodies, a mysterious woman whose face is concealed by what looks like polo mints, and a psychotropic freak out at a music venue. In these moments Dawood, unlike his contemporaries McQueen and Taylor-Johnson, does not transcend his art background. Dawood may be one to watch if he jumps into the pool with both feet rather than tentatively dipping his toes into cinematic waters.
5/10
Extras:

On offer is a snippet of Acid Mothers Temple performing live in Glasgow, an interview with the director which concentrates more on his artwork than the movie and also a Random Acts short/trailer. Nothing that contextualizes the film, slim pickings.
4/10


Jason Abbey


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