VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Jennifer Kent, who made her name with horror “The Babadook”, returned on Thursday with a revenge thriller set in 1825 Tasmania, a penal colony where the abuse meted out to convicts is surpassed only by the cruelty suffered by the Aborigines.
With brutal violence that would be at home in a Quentin Tarantino movie, “The Nightingale” plays like a bleak Western, but one set in a lawless Australian frontier land, where the indigenous people are enslaved and lynched.
When Irish convict Clare suffers unspeakable crimes at the hands of her British captors, she sets off to hunt down the perpetrators, but realises she needs a local guide to help her through the bush inhabited by brigands, thieves and murderers.
When a friend suggests she hire an Aborigine called Billy, she replies with ingrained racism: “I’m not travelling with a black - I’ll end up in a pot as someone’s dinner.”
But she eventually finds common cause with the man who, like her, has seen his people and land ravaged by the British.
“In this day and age, I feel that there’s a great paucity of empathy, compassion, love, kindness, and I hope that people see the necessity of those things in their individual lives, so it’s not: ‘Oh wouldn’t that be nice!’, it’s our key to survival.”
Kent, who learned her craft working under Lars von Trier on the 2003 revenge tragedy “Dogville”, said she was not entirely comfortable to be the lone female among the 21 directors at Venice vying for the Golden Lion.
“It’s not an enviable position to be the only woman in competition and I really hope this is the last year,” she said, adding that she wants one say to be seen as “just another filmmaker in competition”.
The festival’s organisers denied gender bias in their selection of movies, but the sexism controversy blew up at a press screening of the film after which a man shouted in Italian: “Shame on you, whore, you’re disgusting!”.
An online critic called Sharif Meghdoud apologised for the outburst. The Festival said it had revoked his press accreditation.
The Golden Lion will be awarded at the end of the festival on Saturday.
Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky