Review: The Nightengale (2019 Sundance Film Festival


Title: The Nightengale
Rating: NR
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin
Runtime: 2 hr 16 mins

What It Is: Clare (Franciosi) is a young Irish immigrant who lives in poverty with her baby daughter and loving husband in 1820s Tasmania. She lives in an excruciating existence under the manipulation of the greedy egomaniac Hawkins (Claflin), a British Officer. After he and his underlings commit an unforgivable act that causes her to lose everything she loves, Clare hires Aboriginal guide Billy in order to track them down and get her revenge.

What We Think: Welcome to what was the most difficult film to watch at Sundance—certainly this was the case for everyone who happened to include it in their viewing circuit. Right off the bat, I considered walking out of the theater to take a breath and clear my chakra, which is not something I do. I’m not a chakra kind of person. I can usually handle a lot in a movie, but it certainly took a lot of mental and emotional strength to not burst into tears within the first half hour (if I started, I was not gonna stop). That being said, just because I received that sort of uniquely emotional, ear-numbing reaction, it, no matter how visceral, does not automatically warrant an A-grade. It does have its shortcomings, namely in the quite recognizable plot and plot devices, this being a familiar sort of rape-and-revenge / enemies-become-allies story and its character arcs become somewhat predictable. Otherwise, it’s a solid drama, set in a gorgeous, harsh location filmed with incredible respect and humanity. It’s a tiring, textured, and hard-to-watch triumph that may not end up being as impactful or personal to you as you may expect or desire, it in the very least is an accurate juxtaposition in the suffering of marginalized groups according to their culture, politics, race, and gender. That undeniably is effective and important to experience in its own right.

Our Grade: B, The film’s pacing slowed down quite a bit once the initial incident is completed, and I personally began to feel numb the longer the it went on. It dragged on a little. The acting was believable (disgustingly so, on part of the talented Claflin) and endearing, and, while the plot as a whole may be sort of dry, the meaning of the story and the acknowledgement of the trauma of loss and genocide is something timeless. That’s the most I can articulate for a film experience that kept me depressed and bleak for the rest of the day. When considering watching this film, I have to recommend clearing your schedule. Maybe make sure you have a lovely comedy or such to see afterwards to balance you out. I can’t say I would ever look forward to watching this again.

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