When the credits of The Nightingale started rolling I was feeling very confused because I had no idea if I liked the movie or if I found anything overly artistic about it. After sleeping on it I found some answers to latter but was still in the dark about the former. Friendly warning: even though this follow-up from the director of The Babadook, Jennifer Kent, is not horror, it still is one of the most horrific films of the year. Touching subjects like rape, colonialism, racism and murder, it feels important and original in retrospect.
The main story where we follow an Irish convict named Clare and her experiences doesn’t give you any sort of soft treatment right from the beginning. Even though it’s a hard and nauseating watch, all directorial and acting choices serve the purpose to (rightfully) uncomfortable degree. Aisling Franciosi who plays Clare is fantastic with her surprisingly physical role while the standout performance is provided by Baykali Ganambarr as Billy. He delivers some powerful dialogue with full conviction while also bringing some levity with his remarks and movements about blackbirds.
There is quite a bit dialogue here that is overhanded, sometimes to the point of frustration. The film is trying to preach so much to a viewer that it comes out as repetitive, making the minute count rise too much. And as much The Nightingale is grounded in reality and historical events, the fairytale-like ending feels like a magic trick by the writer, designed to dazzle you instead of making you feel like the beginning does. Luckily there is more should’ve beens than could’ve beens but there still are should’ve beens at the end of the day.
Smileys: Baykali Ganambarr, story, Aisling Franciosi
Frowneys: Overpacked middle and last third, ending, Harry Greenwood
It’s not a film for the lighthearted, but it’s an important one.