Film Review: The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s sophomore film The Nightingale is brutal and engrossing. The film is a wonderful showcase for Kent’s conferrable talents.

In 1825, Irish convict Clare suffers a traumatic experience. As she seeks revenge, Clare enlists the help of Billy, an Aboriginal tracker, to guide her through the Tasmanian wilderness…

After the success of 2014’s The Babadook, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s second feature has been eagerly awaited. The Nightingale does not disappoint in its scale and its scope. The film is a trial by fire, delivering a multifaceted retribution tale. 

From the very beginning, the tone of The Nightingale is unsettling. Things quickly get worse, setting up the revenge narrative. Kent ably maintains a sense of tension throughout. The mission is fraught with danger and horror. Nevertheless there is a building of hope to punctuate the bleakness. 

Kent does not shy away from the visceral with The Nightingale. Some of the sequences are incredibly brutal, making them very difficult to watch. The filmmaker forces her viewers to confront evil; it is uncomfortable but not exploitative. Like The Babadook, the film is preoccupied with grief. Here, the anguish is spread out. There is of course the grief of protagonist Clare dealing with a profound and immediate loss. Billy himself deals with the loss of family, but also the loss of a country. Kent places the theft of Australia at the centre of the film, never shying away from the loss and the torment of Aboriginal people. It is of course a wider critique of empire, yet very much a film about Australia. 

The narrative progresses well, with the threat of peril always looming. Sound design in the film is most effective. Kent’s direction places viewers with the protagonists in an intimate and intense manner. Performances are great all round, with Aisling Franciosi delivering an impressive turn. Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman and Sam Claflin are also solid. 

The Nightingale is an unremitting and unforgiving film, yet it is also very powerful viewing. Jennifer Kent is clearly a filmmaker to watch.

Film Review: Judy & Punch

Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch is an impressive fairy tale. Boasting a distinctive atmosphere and strong performances, the film is an engrossing watch. 

In the town of Seaside (which is nowhere near the sea), puppeteers Punch and Judy are trying to resurrect their marionette show for the rowdy, hotheaded locals…

Loosely based on the Punch & Judy show, writer-director Mirrah Foulkes’ debut is an ambitious combination of fairy tale, satire, and social commentary. The filmmaker combines these elements to create a most memorable picture. 

Judy & Punch functions on a number of levels. Satirical elements are strong throughout. Foulkes’ luxuriates in the darker side of traditional fairy tales. There is a question of the supernatural, yet Foulkes uses slight of hand, just like the magic show depicted. Furthermore, the film asks questions about the nature of violence and retribution. 

The narrative mirrors the marionette show itself, albeit with a much meatier core. Foulkes seems to have fun including various elements of the show whilst keeping focus on the central strand of Judy’s journey. The film is far more satisfying for eschewing a traditional revenge narrative. Instead, Foulkes offers something more thoughtful, whilst sending a clear message. 

The setting of Judy & Punch is wonderful, with the small English town reminiscent of earlier British horror. There is a pervading sense of macabre which is delightful. The darkness comes out in violence, but also in the peril of superstition. Foulkes offers a hopeful conclusion, whilst not neglecting darker aspects. 

Cinematography in the film is great. The opening tracking of the hooded figure into the show a wonderful introduction to both the setting and the tone. Elsewhere, lighting and colour is used very effectively. The film is visually appealing; with great costumes and set design. The visuals are wonderfully enhanced by the music, which combines a new score with established pieces. 

Casting in the film is superb. Mia Wasikowska is excellent as Judy, whilst Damon Herriman brings his strikingly intensity to Punch. Terry Norris and Tom Budge are great among the supporting cast.

Foulkes has delivered an original, creative, and compelling debut with Judy & Punch. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Judy & Punch is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019, and released in UK cinemas on 22nd November 2019.