Redha – A MediaConnex Film Review
Crisis and victory shines in this stunning, family drama.
One of the striking films in exhibition at the recently concluded 1st Malaysia International Film Fest (MIFFEST) was Redha (in English, ‘Beautiful Pain’), a Malaysian film directed by Tunku Mona Riza and produced by husband Haris Sulong under their Current Pictures production house.
Redha follows the trials and joys of a couple as they find out and come to terms with their son having autism. Mona started this project after seeing firsthand the trials of raising a child with autism, and set out with Haris to produce a film centered, not on the awareness of the condition, but on fostering empathy from the audience, and encouraging parents of autistic children to engage society at large.
With that focus, she linked up with organizations that support autistic children. The knowledge and understanding guided Mona in her auditioning to find boys who would do justice to depicting the autistic son in the film.
But the larger decision came from them shadowing the lives of two families. Motions, tics, tantrums, fascinations, lingos and walking gait were not only videotaped and studied, but mimicked by the actors on the spot alongside the children. To their credit, the crew did not just shadow, but engaged actively with the families, building friendship and clarity in what is at stake.
The preparations alone, including the several months of accompaniment, took two years. Redha sits in a grey place that is part biography, part documentary, part fiction. Much of the son’s behavior is drawn directly from the two children, and the scenes of denial and outside prejudice taken from real anecdotes.
To keep Redha authentic and respectful, Mona consciously reined in the usual creative license taken by directors to adjust reality for cinematic effect. The story is simple, sometimes actively not using film techniques typical for specific scenes. Yet it does have its moments, and it unashamedly goes for your tears when it needs to, but doesn’t strive to force it upon you.
What her team put their efforts behind is instead the exposure of the inner lives of the family, stating cleanly the impotence of parents against genetic traits, the bitterness of dashed dreams of idyllic family life, and the sobering process of sacrificial adjustment of financial and emotional resources for one small person.
Why you would want to watch it:
Redha brought back awards from film festivals held at the Philippines and Tatarstan. The tale of family struggle, love and acceptance is universal, but the autistic child raises a contemporary point.
Doctors have noted a rise in autistic children, so while uncommon before, these days a significant population are either having an autistic child, friends of such families, or have engaged with one in a social project.
In light humor, the cleanliness of a public toilet is usually indicating how developed a country is. Redha, on the other hand, posits that the kindly and respectful treatment of people with different mental makeup, is a truer marker of civilized living. It may not be a great film technically, but it is a good story.