Directed By Jennifer Kent
Starring – Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr
The Plot – Set at the turn of the 19th century, the film follows Clare (Franciosi), a 21-year-old native Irish wife and mother held captive beyond her 7-year sentence, desperate to be free of her obsessed master, British lieutenant Hawkins (Claflin). Clare’s husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) intervenes with devastating consequences for all. When British authorities fail to deliver justice, Clare pursues Hawkins, who leaves his post suddenly to secure a captaincy up north. Unfamiliar with the Tasmanian wilderness she enlists the help of an orphaned Aboriginal tracker Billy (Ganambarr). Marked by their traumas, the two fight to overcome their distrust and prejudices against the backdrop of Australia’s infamous ‘Black War’.
Rated R for strong violent and disturbing content including rape, adult language throughout, and brief sexuality
– Kent’s vantage point. As a director, Jennifer is quickly earning herself the reputation as a hypnotist, not just for the mesmerizing spell that she commands over the audience, but also for the psychosis that she delves into in getting understand the very pulse of these characters. In this regard, the decision to once again write and direct this film is one that pays off immensely for the way she uses the camera to comprehend human emotion in a way that very few films articulate. With the mostly claustrophobic shot composition, Kent’s unflinching documentation of the face, and all of the weight that is carried through the eyes of the soul, further fleshes out the gut-wrenching nature of the mature content, offering us no chance to turn away from anything other than the registry of emotions that washes over our characters like a current from the sea.
– Transgressive subject matter. This film is not for the faint of heart, as there are multiple examples of female rape, slavery, and the overall handing down of violence, which test audiences who consider themselves brave enough to endure it. Even for a cinephile like me, there are scenes in the film that tested my commitment to it, saved only by the artistry used that makes these conflicts as tasteful as can be. It helps that Kent doesn’t show anything too extreme with the camera, leaving much to be interpreted from audience minds that no horror film can ever touch in terms of scarring material. But the issues enclosed all work for how they’re distributed throughout the film, and even more so, they ring true in a current era where the cycles of these sick matters still resonate now more than ever, giving the film a ringing social endorsement that will appeal more to females and minorities more than any other moviegoer.
– An inside look. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the film is the immersion into the human psyche that comes at the hands of grief, torturous abuse, and taking a life. This is where Kent stands out above the rest in terms of her power with the pen, as there are many fantastical sequences that depict the weight given to these matters, outlining what little chance there is for mental escape for the remainder of this prisonous life. “The Nightingale” more than any other film I’ve seen in recent memory channels this isolation in a way that makes the decision that comes with it one of great responsibility, and this in turn gives extreme value to the many lives that are taken throughout the film, proving them to be something so much more than a convenient body count. They haunt our protagonist like an endearing spirit, and it’s one that haunts her time of rest with nightmarish visuals as a constant reminder that comes with irresponsibly taking a life.
– Minimal music. Kent makes the decision for very little musical incorporation throughout the film, choosing instead to remain within the heat of the environment, which the only constant is unpredictability. What music that is supplanted is sung by Franciosi, an actress with no big mainstream experience with music, yet one who triggers the heartbeat of the audience with every emotional current that she flushes over them with. Her lyrics are those of Irish folk tales, and her presence over the performance reflects everything she is currently dealing with at that particular time. It’s wise to keep music quite limited throughout the film, not only for our suspense, which feels like it is constantly gripped tight in the palm of Kent, but also to leave this time period piece feeling as dated as possible, with as few current day production interjections as possible.
– Aboriginal awareness. Taking time from its revenge narrative, the film has a surprisingly educated look inside the lives of Tasmanian Aboriginals, who were subject to animalistic manners of living due to the rich and powerful. What’s cool about this inclusion is that the members themselves are speaking Palawa Kani, a near extinct language by today’s standards, that has never been spoken in a mainstream motion picture to date. Kent has certainly done her studying for the culture thoroughly, and given them ample time within the screenplay to authenticate the look, sound, and feel accordingly, preserving these dangerously gifted warriors valuably, that still exist in small numbers to this day.
– Strong production values. Post production is reserved in the cases that further enhances authentication within the environment of the picture. This comes in the form of flawless costume design, a domination of natural lighting for the film’s cinematography, and articulate sound mixing that surrounds our characters like a soundtrack for nature isolation. There isn’t a single aspect with the work behind the scenes that breaks investment within the particular time frame, and this attention to consistency grants the movie a transcending value that Kent attains without another big budget studio investment ($2 million). For the love of God, Hollywood, give this woman a budget that she deserves. It would be cool to see what she could do with an unlimited resource, even though parts of me loves that she remains faithful to her independent cinematic values.
– Three award-worthy performances. The entire casting is completely perfect, with not a single complaint for the actors young or old, but for my money, the work of Franciosi, Ganambarr, and Claflin are works of emotional and physical wonder. Claflin easily gives his best performance to date as the film’s antagonist, a man as reckless and uncaring as anyone you have seen on-screen this year. He’s a real son-of-a-bitch, and Sam’s ability to experiment in a character so unlike anything he has done yet is something that makes you completely detest him. First time big screen actor Baykali Ganambarr offers complexity in a character with a difficulty to trust that is understandably so, but his unraveling throughout the picture is one that gives way to a free spirit that is almost animalistic transformative. His developing friendship with Franciosi drove the movie for me, and preserved a natural bond that is earned with every environment that the two endure. Speaking of Franciosi, WOW!!!! For what Kent did inspiring Essie Davis in “The Babadook”, she should be given equal respect for the psychological sting that is Aisling Franciosi. The best actors say so much in their facial registries, and even before she speaks the vengeful and grieving pulse of her voice, Franciosi’s Clare transfers that anxiety and traumatic dealings perfectly in her heart-breaking facial registries. Franciosi is a storm that levels everyone and everything in her way, and even an hour after seeing the film, the wrenching level of time dedicated to her crumbling psyche brings forth a protagonist who is, above all else, human.
– Speaking of human characters, I love that measures taken in attacks from the characters in the movie feel as spontaneously natural as could be expected from these very grounded people. Above all else, they make mistakes. They do things that we the audience in our comfy chairs would consider stupid, but I found it quite refreshing for how matters beyond their control couldn’t be calculated. This not only gives the film an air of unpredictability to it, but also made the characters and bonds that I previously mentioned feel more earned than a conventional screenplay ever could. Give me a movie where the protagonists go through hell, and I will further invest and respect in the complications associated with establishing something as miniscule as food for the uphill climb that went into finally attaining it.
– The ending. I’ve heard many people complaining that the climax of this film was anti-climatic and feels unresolved, and to them I ask, what movie were you watching? Not only did this film satisfy me cathartically for the mental and physical struggles of the characters, but the final shot combines beauty and spirituality in a way that fully realizes the struggle of the long and enduring journey of the characters who are caught in the heat of the moment. The resolution is sudden, sure, but so is revenge. People need to realize that real life doesn’t involve this big magnified production with orchestral rumblings to sell itself. The magnitude of the situation isn’t realized until it is nearly an afterthought, and the manner associated within the values of friendship presented the only feel-good aspect that I had throughout a movie that rattles you with constant intensity.
– A bit too long. For my money, I would shave twenty minutes off of this movie during the late scenes of the second act, which would require you to lose nothing from this picture. Some scenes with the antagonists repeat around this time, as well as some scenes with our protagonists not feeling especially important to what transpires, and it all results in pacing that will create more obstacles than necessary with the audience, if you’re not fully invested into the dynamics of these characters. Make this film just under two hours, and the inevitability of confrontation will feel that much more urgent with this path growing smaller.
My Grade: 9/10 or A