Jennifer Kent directs Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin and Baykali Ganambarr in this rape revenge drama where an indentured convict crosses the Tasmanian wilderness hunting the British soldiers who grievously wronged her.
Oof! The Nightingale is some tough, rough road to travel down. Infamously, at the movie’s debut at the Sydney Film Festival, one viewer was heard shouting “I’m not watching this, she’s already been raped twice” as she exited the theater. One grown man, next to me at our screening, spent most of the film with his head in hands, moaning lowly at all the bloody attacks and colonial trauma. If you’ve seen Kent’s previous film The Babadook you’ll know she is not interested in safe, comfortable or happy experiences. Her films are bleak, depressive attacks on social structures. Just as The Babadook was an unrelenting hard slap to the usually sacrosanct notions of sanity and maternal love, The Nightingale goes for the jugular of Australian history and British colonialism. Unflinchingly taking in what the brutalisation and extermination of the native population looked like while following an oppressed and vulnerable protagonist who literally has had her life decimated by her exploiters. This is a film that has bursts of transgressive violence so hardcore that even I would struggle to think of equivalent Seventies Exploitation Cinema that carve similar psychological wounds. Yet, beyond the fact it isn’t a “nice” film, it is a compelling one. The “western / adventure” aspects unfold slowly yet satisfyingly… the final act moves into a different unexpected territory that may rob us of the traditional justice and vengeance bloodletting we’ve been anticipating but feel more wholemeal on reflection. Uniformly excellent performances from a cast given some very difficult material, beautiful location cinematography. Kent’s second feature feels like a step-up, a doubling down on her style and joins The Proposition and Comrades in the enviable group of great anti-patriotic Australian Period films. Would I rush to rewatch it again? No. Should you gird yourself and watch it once? Very much so.