A scene from "Beautiful Pain", Malaysia

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Redha (Beautiful Pain), is the first Malaysian film to tackle autism. In her feature directing debut, Tunku Mona Riza delivers a quiet, compassionate look at the condition which afflicts one in 160 children, according to the World Health Organization.

Working with the title, Redha (from the Bahasa Malaysia word which means “acceptance”), Riza calmly tells the story of how a couple deal differently with their autistic young son, Danial (Harith Haziq, in a well-drawn performance). Alina (June Lojong), Danial’s mother, takes action on her growing concern that her son’s behavior is different. The father, Razlan (Namron), on the other hand, is in denial about Danial’s condition, insisting that the boy is just a “late bloomer.”

Alina turns to her sister in Kuala Lumpur where Danial finally gets the proper clinical diagnosis. She gets support from other family members and friends while the father eventually comes around when he sees the understanding and concern that a guest in his resort lavishes on Danial. Using this family conflict, Redha makes us understand the world of autistic children and the plight of their families who have to deal with some people who can be hostile and condescending, not to mention coping with the extra challenge of raising kids with the neurodevelopmental disorder.

Both the leads – Lojong and Namron – turn in nuanced performances. The young Haziq observed autistic children and came up with a portrayal that is authentic and never feels like a caricature. In her statement about the film, Riza wrote, “This idea was triggered by a couple. They have a daughter who is in the autism spectrum. Even though I have known them for years, I never knew what was their life like, living with autism, until that long chat I had with them. For the first time, they told me almost everything. I cried hearing their story. With Redha being released in Malaysia, we have brought the awareness to a greater height but somehow, the acceptance of autism, in general, is still very low.”

Shot mostly in Malaysia’s Redang Island, Redha benefits from cinematographer Yudi Datau’s effective compositions that help the narrative along. The movie, produced by Haris Sulong, won the Jury Award for Courage in Storytelling in the 2nd Annual Asian World Film Festival held last November in Los Angeles. This year, Redha bagged other prizes, including Best Actress (June Lojong) and Special Jury Award at the World Premieres Film Festival 2016 in Manila and Merit Award at the Los Angeles Awareness Film Festival 2016.

Remarkably, this movie is only Malaysia’s fourth entry in the Academy Awards’ best foreign language film race.