By Sarah Thomas
Outraged cinemagoers have stormed out of two Sydney Film Festival screenings of Australian director Jennifer Kent’s revenge thriller The Nightingale over its graphic rape and murder scenes.
- It’s the second film from Jennifer Kent, the acclaimed director of horror The Babadook
- Kent has conceded her latest film is “a difficult watch”
- The film won the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival
The film, which screened Sunday and Monday nights at Sydney cinemas with Kent and the cast in attendance, is set in colonial-era Tasmania and stars Aisling Franciosi as Clare, a 21-year-old convict woman pursuing a British officer in revenge for horrific atrocities.
While nudity is minimal, Kent’s film includes several brutal rape scenes and graphic murders.
At the Sydney premiere on Sunday at the Ritz cinema in Randwick, one woman walked out during the early stages, shouting: “I’m not watching this. She’s already been raped twice.”
Several people walked out again when the movie was screened on Monday.
At Sunday’s premiere, the director was grilled at the post-screening question-and-answer session, in which a reeling audience was clearly split.
Meanwhile, after Monday night’s screening Kent told the audience the movie was “a difficult watch” and her motivation was to illuminate a part of Australian history that was seldom talked about.
“My commitment to cinema is just to make people feel something,” she told the audience.
“Even if that’s anger at me or the situation.”
The Nightingale, the second film from Brisbane’s Kent who previously directed the international hit horror The Babadook, also stars Sam Claflin as the British officer Hawkins, Baykali Ganambarr as an aboriginal tracker, Billy, who is guiding Clare through the Tasmanian wilderness and Damon Herriman as British corporal Ruse.
In a statement to the ABC, Kent said the film had been commended by sexual assault survivors.
“Whilst The Nightingale contains historically accurate depictions of colonial violence and racism towards our indigenous people, the film is not ‘about’ violence,” she said.
“It’s about the need for love, compassion and kindness in dark times.
“Both [producer] Aisling Franciosi and myself have been personally contacted by more than a few victims of sexual violence after screenings who are grateful for the film’s honesty and who have drawn comfort from its themes.
“I do not believe this would be happening if the film was at all gratuitous or exploitative.
“We’ve made this film in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders, and they feel it’s an honest and necessary depiction of their history and a story that needs to be told.
“I remain enormously proud of the film.”
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The film has been praised on the international festival circuit, winning the special jury prize and best young actor for Ganambarr at the Venice Film Festival last year, where it was the only film by a female director in the competition.
But its inclusion at Venice was not without controversy, with an Italian film critic heckling Kent during a screening by shouting, “Shame on you, whore, you’re disgusting”.
Critics have backed the film, with Variety describing it as an “uncompromising … pretty magnificent mass of movie”.
The film screens again at the Dendy Newtown on June 16.
Sydney Film Festival has been approached for comment.