About the film
Director: Jennifer Kent
Actors: Sam Claflin, Aisling Franciosi, Damon HerrimanThe director of THE BABADOOK searches for compassion in the midst of cruelty. Director Jennifer Kent took our breath away with THE NIGHTINGALE, a film whose shocking subject matter belies a deep well of empathy and human connection.
While so many movie plots dance around violence and sexual assault primly and often fearfully, THE NIGHTINGALE jumps from the balcony to the chandelier to the middle of the dance floor, making no apologies for the structural damage. And it was this unflinching approach that made watching the story unfold such a riveting experience.
It would be a haunting tale…but it is no tale. This story is assuredly, devastatingly true. From the opening scene, I was pulled into Clare’s pain as her world was shattered at a pace both frantic and measured.
A pervasive hopelessness and helplessness settled over each scene. I realized how much this specific brand of abuse was commonplace at the same time I realized it was inescapable. But side by side with the hopelessness came the anger.
Anyone whose gender, race, or culture has been diminished throughout history tends to develop a built-in chip on the shoulder, a simmering rage on behalf of their community or tribe. I felt that rage. I viewed the film through a red-tinted lens of it. I wanted to virtual-reality myself right in there and fight alongside Claire as she lost everything and clawed her way out of the abyss of grief to hold onto her sanity. But this movie wasn’t only about the struggles of women to be viewed as more than property.
There is also a spotlight thrown upon those men (admittedly very few and far between) who tried to help them. When Clare turns to British authorities after being brutalized, her story is brushed aside, and the fires that fueled her vengeance were stoked. She finds Billy, a young Aboriginal tracker fighting his own losing battles with grief and rage and, after a period of mutual distrust, the two become begrudging allies in a two-fold battle that feels insurmountable.
Because as much as horror and abuse had defined her external reality, Clare’s internal battle often spoke more insistently.
Vengeance is rarely sweet, nor is it satisfying. And if it is achieved, at what cost? What happens when the only thing keeping you moving forward disappears?
THE NIGHTINGALE casts an unflinching light on a period of unspeakable violence, as well as its aftermath. Every character is utilized effectively, and each role played to perfection. Clare and Billy fight their pain, their enemies, and themselves in a storyline woven together in a skillful and achingly beautiful way.
Kent told her story of the fallout of violence from a feminine perspective. And she did so heartbreakingly well.
Content warning: contains depictions of sexual assault.
Winner: Special Jury Prize – Venice Film Festival 2018
Winner: Marcelo Mastroianni Aware for Young Performer: Baykali Ganambarr – Venice Film Festival 2018
Official Selection: Adelaide Film Festival 2018 (Gala Screening)
Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival 2019 (Spotlight program)
Official Selection: Sydney Film Festival 2019