Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is an extraordinary bold film that is never afraid to go where others dare not. Coupled with performances that will live long in the memory, this is a film that needs to be seen.
1825, the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, or present-day Tasmania. Irish convict Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi) works as a servant for the British Colonial force detachment led by Colonel Hawkins (Sam Claflin). But when unwanted advances result in a brutal, humiliating attack and murder. Clare is dead set on revenge. Teaming up with Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), the pair must put aside their differences to achieve their bloody vengeance.
The Nightingale is a difficult and unforgiving watch and it is a credit to writer-director Jennifer Kent that she can make it as the edge of your seat compelling as possible. At every turn, we fear for Clare and Billy as it appears that with every step closer to Hawkins they get, another obstacle comes before them. The opening half and the cause of Clare’s revenge are particularly difficult viewing. Yet as difficult as it is, it is still shocking. You don’t think the colonial soldiers will do what they do, so when they do, you become numb, shook about what you have seen.
While Kent doesn’t gaze too longingly on the more brutal violence happening, the slight glimpses we do get help the viewer to see a more vivid version in their minds. It is a fine line to cross in showing just the right amount of graphic violence that it doesn’t eventually distract the audience from the narrative and Kent should be credited for it. We see the reactions of characters instead, and depending on the nature of it, we feel as they do. As Clare and Billy are on the road and witness a horrific event, we are pulled to their reactions. Both have to remain frozen and stoic to it, to cause little fuss to the transgressors. But when they walk past just enough to let the façade drop, it drops dramatically. This is not a world that they wanted and neither can do much about it.
Aisling Franciosi is incredible here in The Nightingale. The film lives or dies by her performance and the drags herself and the audience through this nightmare through the Australian forests and mountains. This is as physical a role as they come and while we feel utterly for her and the trauma she has gone through, she isn’t full of innocence either. She is, after all, a convict and when she is first introduced to Billy, she is abhorrent to him. She is a character firmly in the grey. This is quite a difficult task to perform for an actor, yet Franciosi marvels.
Baykali Ganambarr astounds in his role as Billy or Mangana, he is the true heart of the film, despite everything that happens to Clare. Both have similar tales to tell, where Clare was physically raped and her family murdered. Whereas Mangana’s entire world is raped and murdered. His community is stripped from him by colonists, he is thrown into slavery in his own country. All the while he witnesses more and more of his people taken down one by one. His silent fury captivates in comparison to Clare’s wild, loud and booming fury.
The opening half an hour is brutal and unforgiving, yet it is the journey and kinship that Clare and Mangana have together that makes the film stand out more. In the beginning as mentioned Clare cares little for him, yet over time, she learns of what has gone on during his own life and the pain he has been through. So when they see the other in pain they feel for the other. This is a complex yet rewarding relationship for the audience as it will open the eyes of many.
This is also an Australia rarely seen thanks to Kent and cinematographer Radek Ladczuk. This lush environment is beautiful, making it a total contradiction to what is happening around it. Despite this roaming landscape, we feel closed in, constantly smothered by the tree’s, the circumstance and the hateful people we find on the way.
Jennifer Kent has created a piece that will live long in the memory and one that is boldly never afraid to hit the audience with one punch after another in a traumatic viewing experience. An essential film.
• She Will Not Be Silenced: an interview with Actor Aisling Franciosi
• Sometimes Trouble Finds You: an interview with Actor Michael Sheasby
• Just Making Light, Sir: an Interview with Actor Damon Herriman
• I Surrender: an Interview with Actor Harry Greenwood
• Taking Flight: an interview with Producer Kristina Ceyton
• Assembling Vengeance: an Interview with Editor Simon Njoo (12mins)
• Building Something Special: an Interview with Production Designer Alexander Holmes
• Hear her Voice: an interview with Composer Jed Kurzel
• ‘Bloody White People’: A Video Essay by Alexandra Heller Nicholas
• The Nightingale in Context
• The Making of The Nightingale
• Theatrical Trailer
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Laura Racero
• 40 page perfect-bound booklet with new writing by Elena Lazic and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
• 3 collectors’ art cards
As to be expected from Second Sight, we have a plethora of extras and a lot of more recent ones as well. A gluttony of interviews with the cast and production team help show us not only how they felt about the film, but how it helped them in future roles or positions in future films with some interesting comparisons made. As made out in the other featurettes in these interviews we understand how gruelling the film was on some of the task. How Aisling Franciosi was draining from the emotional and physical side of her role. Small touches such as this show how those who make movies do have an affinity and love for their craft and put everything into it. A great bunch of interviews.
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’s video essay is also a perfect accompaniment to The Nightingale as it delves into the historical relevance of the time in which the film is set. How native people to Australia were treated and how the themes within the film talk and there are clear difficulties present.
After this we have a feature talking about the importance and context to the film in relation to those that made it. How important it was to keep the themes and respect the aboriginal history of the time and the true concerns she had on doing this. This is where the dic should have perhaps ventured more into and to have more of the directors presence in the disc as Jennifer Kent also wrote the film would have been great for audiences who are not fully knowledgeable about the said Australian history.
Overall it has to be said that this is a Blu Ray release that deserves your attention, while there is no audio commentary and Kent is not as rife through the features as one would expect, there is so much to enjoy here. A fantastic film has been given a fantastic treatment from Second Sight.
Second Sight films present The Nightingale Limited Edition Blu-Ray is available now.
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