Like a distorted transmission from a distant planet, Shezad Dawood’s debut feature, Piercing Brightness (2013) lands in selected UK cinemas this week. Dawood is a renowned visual artist who has recently toured a major exhibition of the same name featuring film, painting and light sculpture. This cinematic iteration bares many of the hallmarks of a unique and talented artist and is at times a sensory revelation – though its abstract nature means that it is not entirely accessible. The palimpsest of its opening minutes create something of an overwhelming audiovisual experience, evoking the feature’s installation roots.
After that, Piercing Brightness then settles into a slightly more conventional – though not quit linear – narrative which begins with a Chinese couple arriving in sunny Preston. It’s instantly clear that these are not visitors from Beijing, however, but from another world and are on Earth to place down glowing markers. These will guide a ship to collect the ‘Glorious 100’: emissaries secreted on the planet millennia ago to watch and discover the evolution of humanity. It quickly becomes clear that these are not the first to arrive and attempt to lay down markers, however. Some of the hundred, keen to remain on Earth, have sabotaged previous efforts. As they go about attempting to foil another collection, the two new arrivals use their brief shore leave to sample the cultural delights on offer.
The plot unfolds piece by piece and there are frequent interjections, or possible cross-transmissions, with other esoteric clips. Not all of which have meaning that becomes clear once the film has concluded, and this is ultimately what undermines the most interesting aspects of Piercing Brightness. There are clearly a plethora of issues contained within the films inviting and bizarre setup that seem perfectly suited to the genre; one particularly obvious one being the nature of being an ‘alien’ on British soil – regardless of home planet.
Even when these underlying themes are evident, though, they lack the force to ever really hit home and make themselves heard. Ultimately, it feels as though this film may find a more accommodating home in a gallery than at a movie theatre; engaging but never quite engrossing, it is definitely an interesting watch. Sadly, even audiences wanting to enjoy Piercing Brightness might be left frustrated, wondering at the possibility of profound ideas lurking beneath its glowing exterior rather than feeling their full glorious effect.