Jennifer Kent and Aisling Franciosi in Venice. Photo: Alberto Terenghi/Venezia 2018/Shutterstock.

The first reviews for Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale after the world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival were effusive – marred only by a disgusting comment from an Italian journalist.

The journalist apologised and had his accreditation cancelled after loudly calling the director a “whore” at the Wednesday night media screening.

Before the insult, the audience applauded the death of a villainous English character. But when an Aboriginal character was killed the crowd cheered and applauded in equal measure, prompting many on Twitter to question the racial sensitivities of the media who attended.

Kent showed a remarkable degree of grace and tolerance when she was asked to comment on the racist and sexist reactions at a media conference on Thursday, stating: “It’s of absolute importance to react with compassion and love for ignorance. There is no other option.

“The film speaks very clearly to that. I am very proud of the film and my crew for daring to tell a story that needs to be told. Love, compassion, kindness are our lifeline, and if we don’t utilize them, we will all go down the plughole.”

Produced by Kristina Ceyton of Causeway Films and Bruna Papandrea and Steve Hutensky of Made Up Stories, Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook stars Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie and Michael Sheasby.

Set in 1820s Tasmania, the plot follows Franciosi as Clare, a young Irish convict as she chases British officer Hawkins (Claflin) through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family.

On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Ganambarr), who is also marked by trauma from his own violent past. Sheasby is Clare’s husband Aidan with Herriman as crude corporal Ruse and Greenwood as young ensign Jago.

At the press conference Kent addressed the storm of criticism over her film being the only one from a female director among the 21 titles in competition. “It’s not about me, but it is quite hard for me because I wish I had my sister filmmakers here,” she said.

“It’s important we move towards gender parity. Cinema’s job is to reflect the world, and if we only reflect 50 per cent of the world, then it’s not doing its job. It’s a very serious issue.

“There are other filmmakers that are under-represented: Indigenous filmmakers, filmmakers of colour, filmmakers from developing countries, filmmakers who don’t identify as cisgender men or women. We still have a lot of way to go.”

Typical of the raves, Sam Golding, Associated Press’ entertainment news reporter, hailed the thriller as “absolutely extraordinary. Harrowing and gut-wrenching – yet also touching, and with genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Sound design is brilliant too. If there’s a better film at Venice, I don’t know what it is.”

FirstShowing’s Alex Billington declared yesterday: “It’s morning and I still can’t stop thinking about how amazing Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is. This is one of those remarkable films that will be on Criterion in two years, for sure. I hope a great distributor gets this film and supports it.”

Italian critic Lorenzo Ciorcalo said: “This black Irish feminist ballad will fly you to the highest notes ever reached beyond the dirtiest bloodiest outbacks we ‘the civilized’ come from. My Golden Lion.”

Variety’s Guy Lodge likened the film to a feminist companion to Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, opining: “Kent’s elemental revenge tale attains a near-mythic grandeur over the course of its arduous, ravishing trek. Some stricter editing wouldn’t go amiss, particularly in a needlessly baggy, to-and-fro finale, but it’s a pretty magnificent mass of movie.”

IndieWire’s Michael Nordine said: “Acclaimed filmmakers often face the challenge of big expectations on their second features, but Kent joins the ranks of sophomore filmmakers whose new movies expand on their debuts in startlingly ambitious ways. She charts her own path in The Nightingale, a savage journey that might not have been worth the trip were its guide not so adept at navigating the darkness.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney found much to admire in a gripping historical tale with a viewpoint that is relevant to today, praising the acting, the vivid atmospherics and the evocative camerawork by Polish DOP Radek Ladczuk. But Rooney said the climactic payback is a long time coming and loaded with too many improbabilities.

Transmission Films will date the film, which will premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 13, pending a US deal; FilmNation is handling worldwide sales.

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