Jennifer Kent’s THE NIGHTINGALE brings shared trauma from both sides of Australian colonialism.

Aisling Franciosi plays Clare, a woman bent on tracking the man who ruined her life in Jennifer Kent’s second movie The Nightingale. Baykali Ganambarr is Billy, the man she employs as her tracker.

THE NIGHTINGALE. Country, Australia. Canada, US. Director, Jennifer Kent. Screenwriter, Jennifer Kent. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Michael Sheasby. Language, English, Scottish Gaelic, Palawa Kani. Runtime, 136 minutes. Venue: IFC Center. Mostly Indies rating: A

I’m a bit thrown off by the way that this, Jennifer Kent’s second film following her massive breakthrough source nifedipine sublingual, 10 mg gopillsmarket writing prompts using dialogue how do i log out of yahoo mail on my iphone waste management thesis paper research paper sample questions structure of research papers cialis clayton coursework writer viagra lucerne survey research and dissertations prednisone rash treatment free sample ged essays get link how to write good thesis title write an essay on my school compound essay exam verbs persuasive essay about abortionВ 2000 no essay scholarship legit euthanasia thesis viagra tesco stores buy photo paper online india go site The Babadook, is being marketed as a revenge film. Let me explain. Revenge does drive much of the story, but after the credits rolled, and the Q & A ended, I was left with a much bigger understanding about the tapestry woven in The Nightingale.

The events of Kent’s powerful story involve Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict living a hardscrabble life in 1820s Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) with her husband and infant baby. Clare owes her freedom — and her fate — to Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin, who takes his character to the very edge of psychopathy), who takes delight in abusing Clare and forcing her to sing for his gang of alcoholic soldiers. After an incident in which Hawkins goes overboard in his mistreatment of her — a thing that has not gone unnoticed by his superior — Clare’s husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby), who’s had enough of this no-win situation, decides it’s time for he, Clare, and their young baby, to leave. However, a confrontation with Hawkins escalates into a terrible act of violence that leaves the family completely destroyed in the most literal sense, and Clare is left for dead.

When she revives, her personality is completely changed. No longer the submissive young woman of the start of the film, Clare seeks justice with the determination of a warrior. However, being a convict (and a woman against a man’s word), justice does not happen. So she burns her home, enlists Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), a local Aboriginal male to help her track Hawkins and his gang with the promise of payment. Hawkins, in the meantime, has left in search of a promotion he expects to receive.

Image from The Film Stage

Clare’s and Billy’s journey, which at times reminded me somewhat of the Hepburn – Bogart adventure in The African Queen (with the obvious difference that Clare’s and Billy’s takes place on land), comes with its own share of difficulties. The relationship between Clare and Billy is appropriately prickly, so much that it risks losing the audience who might momentarily stop caring for Clare. However, the times do indicate that neither Clare nor Billy would have been on good terms to begin with due to their racial differences alone and that Billy’s kind would have been seen as less than human. However, Clare is keenly aware that she needs Billy’s expert knowledge of the land to fulfill her plan. As a lone woman in the 1820s, Clare would be, by proxy, subject to rape or even murder by men in the wilderness who live beyond the law. Adding to her troubles is her own rash behavior. Throughout the film she forgoes safety and ventures into questionable behavior. Billy, on the other hand, has no beef in this situation, and once he witnesses Clare go into a maniacal fury against one of the men responsible for her tragedy — a premature climax — he almost turns away.

However, by this point, there is an indefinable link between the two of them, and his sense of duty as well as her own realization that she is lost without him keep them firmly together as they advance to whatever awaits them at the end of this chase.

This is where The Nightingale begins to morph into something else. Anyone seeking the flat revenge picture offered through the trailer will be disappointed. Anyone wanting to see a deeply moving story about shared grief which renders us the same at the hands of fate will truly be moved by Kent’s story. While we, as the audience, demand that Hawkins pay for his atrocities — mind you, he doesn’t stop at Clare but moves on to casually destroy the defenseless –, and indeed we will get there, Kent keeps a firm focus on Clare and Billy moving steadily behind, always within grasp of their objective. By the use of their own native languages — Clare’s Gaelic as a furious soundboard to Billy’s own Palawa Kani — we hear two people railing against the horrors of colonialism. Billy realizes that Clare and he share much more, even when it takes her a bit longer to reach this point of understanding, so focused is she in her mission. These are two haunted people that learn to stick together. Their scenes together form passages of enormous beauty in which Clare will sing softly into the night, or towards the end, when all is said and done, the two face a brilliant Sun and Billy, clothed in the garments of his people, performs a dance of defiance, daring the world to erase him.

The Nightingale is not an easy film to see. This is a movie marked by acts of incredible violence against women and Aborigines alike, and after Clare’s own horrific sequence, there will be one more that happens twice, almost daring the audience to look away. Kent, however, will not do that, and instead keeps the camera on its grim, awful story because the near eradication of the native people at the heart of the historical drama demand it so. This is a far, far stronger piece than The Babadook because this one is rooted in a bleak part of Australian history, whereas horror is often trapped in its own genre limitations. That Kent tackles this topic with so much elegance and compassion speaks of her commitment to telling the truth, even when the result might not be satisfying at all levels.



Director: Taylor Sheridan
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: English

Midway through Wind River, a character roughly says, “This murder is practically solving itself,” and that, my dear friends, is a problem. Taylor Sheridan once again dives into the underbelly of society, but where his incursions redefined the Western in Hell or High Water and danced with horror in Sicario, both films which yielded memorable performances from its shady as heck characters (and a sympathetic one from Emily Blunt, a female FBI agent tossed in the middle of an increasing set of odds in Sicario), Wind River, while correct and serviceable as a crime thriller, never truly manages to find that dark tone that would have made it the standout sleeper of the late summer. It’s a shame because with an action taking place in the desolate mountains of Wyoming in the Indian Reservation of Wind River, there was plenty of material to convey an atmospheric sense of a larger corruption at hand, something truly unsettling.

The best scene is, as a matter of fact, its most disturbing. The film opens to a young woman dashing barefoot through the snow, escaping an unknown danger before she collapses to the elements and passes out of the story, in body. Enter Jeremy Renner, a game tracker separated from his Indian wife, who finds the dead woman’s body and has to team up with the nearest FBI agent sent all the way from Vegas to survey the crime scene, and with her report, justify the need to send out more agents or close the case. When she appears it’s under the form of Elizabeth Olsen, and at first, as it always is in these movies, her presence is, for the locals, meant to be merely perfunctory, a blip in a series of nothings in a place where nothing really happens. However, a correct assessment of the way rhe woman — Natalie — died doesn’t match up despite the coroner’s report. However, the coroner can’t justify homicide. Olsen can’t call for more agents, so it’s up to her and Renner to take matters into their own hands.

I’m going to say that perhaps this is what happens when someone who’s barely directed takes a film as ambitious as this into his own hands in the hopes of delivering a strong product and coming up just a shade short. Wind River is what you’d call a serviceable, above average procedural that takes you from start to end without delving too much in the horror of it all — even the necessary flashback scene that sets the plot in motion feels flat and done without style or any sense of suspense or even terror — but somehow it just didn’t quite go that extra mile to stay in my memory and thus, remains as just another good movie with solid performances by Renner, Olsen, Gil Birmingham, and Jon Bernthal in a small but pivotal role.


Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than seeing rape on camera, depicted or suggested (or both). There’s just something gut-wrenching and horrifying about seeing a woman demoralized and debased on camera that also, somehow, by voyeurism, makes me, the watching eye, complicit. Watching even a brief glimpse — or, as in the case of that unwatchable, ten-minute scene from Irreversible, an apparent eternity and right onto the camera–is stomach-churning, it’s a cry of outrage, one that demands some kind of retribution, be it legal as in 1988’s  The Accused or something much darker as in Ms, 45 and a slew of rape-revenge films.


Craig Zobel’s 2012 indie Compliance falls under a different category altogether. Rape isn’t an isolated event that befalls the heroine and disgraced her; oh, no. The entire film is a relentless progression towards the debasement and utter humiliation of a young woman working at a fast-food restaurant. The chain’s manager, Sandra, played by the excellent Ann Dowd (she’ll show up next in the made for TV Big Driver), has received news that her staff is using too much bacon on their burgers. There’s the possibility some may be eating them off camera. Whatever the case, she’s already in a frazzled state when she gets a call from a man purporting to be a police officer asking her questions about her employees stealing from customers. Somehow, Sandra can’t shake the call off, and the probing officer continues to grill her on her employees, particularly Becky (Dreama Walker). Once the officer starts making demands that they isolate Becky for questioning in the back room, things start to slowly spiral out of control. Once Becky herself is on the phone with the officer who claims to know everything about her,  Compliance takes a vicious left turn and never looks back.


The events that unfold start to feel almost hazy and as an viewer I had to often step back and distance myself from the sheer nastiness that Becky is subjected to by a voice on the phone. When you see it you will feel deeply complicit as well as outraged  how is it possible that a store mananger couldn’t be more proactive? You might be surprised. Shades of the Stanford Prison experiment and Stanley Milgram’s own research on the behavior of people caught in a tense situation where one is in control and one is not — master and servant — tint the movie. People can go from being mild mannered to evil in a switch when the voice of authority calls. Compliance makes accomplices into what Hannah Arendt calls the banality of evil  “I was just following orders.”

The kicker? It actually happened. [A+]



One story that looks like it could have partially been based on fact is the movie adaptation of  Stephen King’s novella Big Driver, a story you can find in his Full Dark, No Stars compilation which came out several years ago. [A Perfect Marriage, also in that compilation and an equally compelling story, is also featured there.] Big Driver isn’t a bad movie — it has several good parts — but it suffers from the same curse that most adaptations of Stephen King’s work do: bad direction and an overall sense of a failed project, a story that looks and reads great on paper but feels like something you’ve seen countless times before. [I think its association as being a Lifetime movie didn’t help.] It’s too bad, because Big Driver is dark as they come. Maria Bello plays Tessa Thorne, a famous author of “cozy mysteries” that has garnered her a following with older ladies. Tessa gets an invitation from Ramona Norville (Ann Dowd, again) to come speak and do a Q & A in Chicopee, Massachussetts. Once the event is over, Ramona casually advises Tessa to avoid the Interstate and instead take a back road that is much safer. Tessa follows her advice. That advice turns out to be the biggest mistake she’s ever made.

She encounters vehicle problems when her car runs over some nail-studded planks of wood and she blows a tire. Needing help, she meets a tall bear of a truck driver who instead of helping her, soon turns violent, rapes the shit out of her, beats her unconscious, and throws her body into a culvert. Once there, Tessa, in shock but also in survival mode, makes her way into the darker recesses of the culvert and makes a horrifying discovery. Even so, she escapes, bloody and battered, and somehow makes her way back to her hotel where she assesses the level of physical damage to her body and surprisingly, decides against reporting him to avoid the scandal of being a rape victim.

What comes next should be tense filled, but even for an 85 minute movie, doesn’t take the movie any other place than the requisite revenge that is broadly advertised in the trailer. I personally don’t have a problem with such a predictable route. The problem lies that it’s so transparent. Tessa displays next to  no soul-searching (Curiously, Isabelle Huppert’s character in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle faces a similar dilemma of not reporting the rape, but also carrying on, but more on that one next.) Tessa has made the decision to take justice into her own hands, go back to the scene of the crime, and pay her rapist a visit.

Mikael Salomon isn’t a director I am familiar with (he’s mostly done television and was a cinematographer in the 80s and 90s) but Big Driver is serviceable without rising above the material. Also, keeping the narrative so faithful not only to the source material but also the author’s quirks rob the film of any emotional impact once the inevitable confrontations take place. Had Salomon and his screenwriter Richard C Matheson (son of the famed author of the same name) taken a different approach to the material perhaps the supporting pieces to the whole that is Big Driver would  have worked. Instead, they’re a distraction. [B]



Here we are at the third and final film that tackles rape in a unusual way. Paul Verhoeven isn’t shy to press buttons when it comes to provoking the audience with shock.  His latest feature, Elle, which may very well be his crowning achievement, will not fail to disappoint even when its topic is as difficult and borderline lurid. That he cast renowned French actress, Isabelle Huppert, as his brilliantly complex heroine/anti-heroine, is a coup de grace. This is a role that actresses would kill for and I’m surprised of the amount of rejections it went through before landing on Huppert’s hands; however, I’m glad she got it. It’s as if Verhoeven had already thought of Huppert well before the movie was even completed–she’s that obsessively good.

If you can believe it, Elle is a black comedy about rape. Yes, you read that correctly: the horrible R word no woman ever wants to experience. From the get-go Verhoeven plunges us into its black desire and all we hear ar the painful, horrified shrieks of Michele LeBlanc  (Huppert)  as she attempts to shield herself from her attacker. When the camera’s eye opens we see a black cat observing the horror show with a bored look on its face. And then, no sooner than it happened, it’s over.  The assailant, a man with a ski mask and track suit, leaves the premises. Here is where Elle starts to go sideways into the unknown. Instead of predictably calling the police and making a report (she has a rather contentious history with the authorities for reasons having to do with her father, an infamous serial killer now serving a life sentence), Michele gets up, cleans the mess, takes a bath, and proceeds to move on with her life. She dismisses her attack to her son as a tumble she took, but makes the rather casual remark at dinner that freezes them all: “I guess I was raped.”

We will return to this awful scene not once,  but several times. I’ve come to the conclusion that Michele is perhaps in a perverse way atoning for the sins of her father, but her character is much too complex to leave it at that. This is not the first time Verhoeven has created females who don’t obey the rules of what a woman should do in certain situations — indeed, in society — and with Michele, he has by far outdone himself. Her character makes snide comments at her own mother who is having an affair with a gigolo, she berates her own employees who question her use of violence in video games, has an affair with her best friend’s husband in her own office, and masturbates to the neighbor next door whom she invites to a dinner with her entire family — one that transpires with a lot of heavy petting under the table and verbal innuendo. And all the time, we can’t seem to not like her. Perhaps her cries of help at the beginning have already established a subliminal link in our minds from the get-go. Perhaps we all would like to be this detached. It all rests on the magnificent performance Isabelle Huppert conveys of what is essentially an amoral sociopath walking a tightrope between life and death.

There is a lot to be said about Elle that even the Q & A with Verhoeven at the opening night at the Alice Tully last October didn’t manage to answer. I also don’t want to venture into talking more about it because to do so would be to reveal aspects of this thriller that are best left to the viewer. I will say, however, that Elle is a highly original and unusual character study that is all over the place in tones — it moves from violence to comedy to drama with incredible ease, and one can find them all sitting side by side in the same scene. One could call it an extreme version of female empowerment. After all, Michele gets to do things that goes completely left of what is considered moral. As a matter of fact, nothing in Michele suggests she herself is moral, but that she lives on her own terms. So it’s appropriate that her progressive delving into this flirtation with danger with the man who raped her is almost perfect for her type of character. Michele understands the culture of violence that she now profits from. It what makes her so deliciously good when she not only embraces it, but does so with perverse abandon. [A+]