'Nitram'.

Justin Kurzel’s Nitram left an indelible impression on critics following its premiere at Cannes Film Festival on Friday, with many singling out the film’s tone and performances for praise.

The pre-Port Arthur massacre portrait of perpetrator Martin Bryant – who is not named in the film – is the first Australian feature to screen in competition at the French festival since Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty in 2011. In the same year, Kurzel’s debut Snowtown, about a series of murders committed in Adelaide between 1992-1999, screened in Critic’s Week.

Like Snowtown, Nitram is also based on true events and penned by Shaun Grant. However, the reviews that followed last week’s screening drew only broad stroke comparisons between the two films while commending Kurzel for his storytelling choices.

Writing for Variety, Jessica Kiang described Nitram as “ostensibly similar” to Snowtown, but noted the former represented “a far more mature and better modulated work”.

“Instead of bullets and bodies, under the blood-rush swells of Jed Kurzel’s grave and glimmering score, and draped in Germain McMicking’s composed, careful handheld images, the focus is on the years, weeks and days before the tragedy,” she wrote.

In his four-star review for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote the decision not to show the Port Arthur massacre “made sense”.

“Might there be something evasive in Kurzel’s decision not to show the climactically evil moment of Bryant’s existence? I don’t think so,” he wrote.

“Scenes like those might overbalance the film, which has so intriguingly shown Bryant’s strange, looming intensity, the floating strangeness of his thoughts, mixed with the nauseous boredom and aimlessness of his simmering existence.”

Writing for Deadline, Todd McCarthy suggests Kurzel has “restrained himself” from the violence of his previous work in order to focus “psychological and emotional maladjustments of the title character”.

“It’s clear what’s coming and dread sets in, though the director makes an unorthodox but very effective decision about how to handle the climax that serves his purposes extremely well,” he wrote.

The contributions of Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, and Caleb Landry Jones were also lauded by media covering the film.

Screen Daily‘s Tim Grierson said Jones – who was crowned Best Actor at the event’s subsequent awards – is “perfectly cast” in the titular role, while referring to LaPaglia and Davis’ respective performances as his father and mother “gripping studies in contrast”.

The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney identified the supporting performances of the two Australian actors as “shattering in completely different ways”.

Nitram is produced by Good Thing Productions’ Nick Batzias and Virginia Whitwell, alongside Kurzel and Grant.

The film will premiere locally at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August, before a theatrical release via Madman Entertainment and then streaming bow as a Stan Original.

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