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I recently watched Jennifer Kent (Babadook)'s follow up film The Nightingale.
It's an Aussie movie following Clare (Aisling Franciosi) an Irish convict held against her will by the British authorities in what is now Australia, as she avenges a violent and unthinkable crime against her family and herself by the British/Australian officer (Sam Claflin) who is delaying her release as a free woman because he's attracted to her. She seeks the support of an Aboriginal man, "Billy", to track the offending officer and his foot soldiers across the untamed wilderness of Tasmania, Australia, to exact her revenge.
The plot description above reads like a 1970s exploitation film like I Spit On Your Grave. It ABSOLUTELY Is not this. The crime Clare is seeking revenge for involves rape, yes, and is one of the most brutal scenes in a mainstream movie I've ever seen. But it is so matter of fact that it becomes impossible watch and make Clare's seemingly far-fetched plan for revenge seem very justified and helps you root for her.
There is no non-diagetic soundtrack which works for the film's advantage. Scenes in which Claire gets her bloody (and it is VERY bloody) revenge let us hear every inch of skin being broken, bones snapped, and blood fallen. Aisling Franciosi is amazing in every way and I don't think I'll live to see another performance where an actress does so much to make us believe an unbelievable pain. Franciosi's performance is easily the best of the millenium, and she is is nearly every scene.
Ganambarr is outstanding for his first performance as Billy. I worry about the future of his career, just because there are so few roles in Australia for Aboriginal men. Billy's point of view is not as foregrounded as the white Claire's but I appreciate how the movie point out that English colonialism impacted non-British woman in awful way as well; it's a nuanced way too look at institutionalized violence that avoids exploitation.
[SPOILERS] This is hard to watch, and I've seen it twice to make sure I got it all. I will not mince words: a baby is killed on screen after a brutally long rape scene (of Claire), and as I said, Kent does not really let these scenes be easy to watch. But you have to see The Nightingale if you want to understand just how horrible Australia's history was for many groups.
The pacing suffered in the last 1/3 - I understand Kent's decision to let the final vengeance murder be "underwhelming" (violence isn't a solution, after all), but as a piece of narrative film it doesn't work too well. Minor issues, however.
This is a classic Western in almost every way, except where it matters. Don't listen to anyone who categorizes it as a horror movie just because the director is also responsible for the Babadook. It's horrific in scenes, but it is definitely closer to a Western.
P.S the gentlemen who played Billy's uncle single-handed brought back to life a "dead" Aboriginal language (the language spoken in the film) and was a guest lecturer in some of my university classes. One of the wisest people I ever met.
I'm so happy Kent decided to stay in her native Australia for her second movie despite offers elsewhere and i look forward to her next work.
I was a bit reluctant to see it given the hype surrounding walkouts at Festivals cause I can be a bit of a wimp. Despite some explicit stuff, I don't think those scenes were anywhere near as bad as made out.
I also found the (completely platonic) bond between Billy and Claire that formed to be one of the only sweet things that happened in an otherwise harrowing film.
Do you think there's much of a future for Baykayli Ganambarr with Aus's current film industry? I'd hate to see him fade into obscurity (or end up on Dancing with the Stars) but I'm seeing so few Aboriginal roles being written for men in current films. It's like how every black female character of a certain age in Aussie TV ends up being played by Deborah Mailman. It's inspired me to write more Indigenous characters and set things I write in Australia more (not that I'm in any position to affect industry change).
Haha! That's so funny, Ben. We have a running Deborah Mailman gag in our household in relation to narrow-minded casting. Aaron Pedersen has had a big career too.
I wonder how much the negative hype hurt the box office. This was one classy film from the acting to the cinematography, sound design, script, everything.
I hope Baykayli Ganambarr gets more roles. He has such a lovely presence. Not that many Aussie actors are doing much of anything at the moment with Covid suspending things for all that time. It's such a small industry anyway. Melbourne may be sending things backwards again.
So, yep, write more indigenous characters. Be great if Aussie casting agents looked at diversity too though.
I'm looking forward to Jennifer Kent's next one too!
Yeah. Babadook. Amazing horror movie. Goes on to show no matters who's behind the camera if you got passion for the story, you're on your way.
The Nightingale. Amazingly brutal and slap on the face movie. Can't imagine some of the critics outright savaged it. Ladies included. Unbelievable. It had purpose for the gore portrayed in it. Not like those no brainers like Saw and Wrong turn. Situational gore - I like to call it. Rightfully so.