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Non-Review Review: The Nightingale

The Nightingale arrives as Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook, and represents a slightly different sort of horror.

The Babadook was one of the best horror films of the decade, a creeping and unsettling look at a mother’s depression as she tried to work through her complicated feelings towards her own son. The Nightingale is something quite different, essentially a frontier western about a woman who sets out to avenge herself upon the British soldiers who inflicted a terrible suffering upon her and her family. As Clare tracks these men through the wilderness with an aboriginal guide named Billy, she finds herself confronted with the true nightmares of colonial Australia.

Eyes frontier.

The Nightingale belongs to a rich tradition of Australian westerns including modern classics like The Proposal, stories that play on the frontier myth and explore the country’s deeply troubled and unsettled history. Kent’s direction is tense and claustrophobic, refusing to ever let the audience look away from the horrors inflicted upon the continent by the European settlers who presumed to claim it as their own. The Nightingale is a bleak and cynical piece of film, one that is occasionally suffocating and dizzying in its portrayal of man’s capacity for inhumanity.

However, perhaps the most striking aspect of The Nightingale is how – for all its unflinching brutality and refusal to offer trite sentimentality – the film advances an argument for intersectionalism. As Clare journeys deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness, she discovers that the suffering inflicted upon her and her family is just one expression of a more primal and insidious violence, and that perhaps she has more in common with Billy than she might originally think.

Not so hot to trot.

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130. (i) Mary and Max (#177) – Interview with Adam Elliot and Andy Hazel

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This weekend, we’ll be discussing Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max with the wonderful Andy Hazel.

However, Andy actually managed to sit down with director Adam Elliot to discuss the film and his career in general. It’s a fun and wide-ranging discussion, covering a host of topics from the writer-director’s influences to his future plans to the film’s place on the list and even the difficulty securing international distribution. We hope you enjoy, and join us again on Saturday for our discussion of the film itself with Andy.

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Non-Review Review: Sweet Country

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

“What chance does this country have?” asks Sam Neill towards the climax of Sweet Country.

In the context of the scene, it isn’t entirely clear to whom the character is speaking. There is one other individual in the scene, but they are preoccupied at that moment and it’s not clear they are even within earshot when Neill’s character makes his grave assessment about the future of this young nation. However, outside the context of the scene, it is very apparent to whom Neill’s character is addressing his concerns. He is speaking directly to the audience through the medium of film.

Sweet Country is not a film that does subtlety or nuance. As Neill’s character offers this pointed question, he stumbles through the Australian wilderness, as if to suggest that he is lost. He stops just short of bluntly stating that he is lost, just like this country, the film demonstrating uncharacteristic faith in the audience’s narrative and thematic comprehension. Nevertheless, just in case the audience still doesn’t get it, Neill’s character asks this very profound question while wandering in the direction of the tail end of a rainbow set against a stormy sky.

“What chance does this country have?” the character wonders. The audience doesn’t feel the need to articulate the obvious response, “Not much, if it produces films like this.”

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Non-Review Review: The Babadook

Monsters are real.

We all have our own monsters that we keep with us over our lives. “You can’t get rid of the Babadook,” a mysterious storybook threatens early in the runtime of The Babadook. Young Samuel tries to warn his mother Amelia about the monster lurking in the dark spaces – under the bed, in the closet, in the corner of his eye. He offers one rather sage bit of advice when it comes to such creatures. “You have to let it in.”

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Writer and director Jennifer Kent has crafted a superlative creature feature with The Babadook, acknowledging the metaphorical nature of monsters. These strange nightmares tend to stand in as expressions of guilt or anxiety. They give expression to thoughts and fear we could never properly articulate. The Babadook teases its audience with questions about the reality of the eponymous creature.

Is the strange “Mr. Babadook” something that truly exists, or is it something Samuel (and maybe Amelia) have created to cope with a horrific trauma?

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Non-Review Review: The Rover

The Rover isn’t quite a post-apocalyptic road movie. A title card places the story “ten years after the collapse”, but it’s never clear what exactly “the collapse” is. Buildings still stand. Trains still run. Telegraph polls are still connected. Cars still drive. Military units still offer some small semblance of law and order. This isn’t a world that has collapsed, it is the decaying structure of a world still struggling to stand.

The Rover is a starkly beautiful and haunting film, one that says a lot with only a few scattered words. It’s unsettling not in its portrayal of a world that is dead, but instead in its attempt to capture a world struggling to keep breathing.

As the world burns...

As the world burns…

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Non-Review Review: Tracks

Tracks looks absolutely stunning. Photographer Rick Smolan is credited as an inspiration for the look and feel of the film, which makes a great deal of sense – Smolan was the photographer tasked by National Geographic with documenting Robyn Davidson’s trek across Australia. His pictures, accompanying Davidson’s article in National Geographic, captured the raw beauty of the Australian countryside. Director John Curran and cinematographer Mandy Walker create a rich a vivid study of the journey.

The story itself is told at a leisurely pace, allowing the audience to absorb the scale of Davidson’s remarkable accomplishment – as if documenting the sheer breadth of the continent. Tracks isn’t quite perfect. It occasionally indulges a little too heavily in clichés while refusing to delve too far under the skin of its protagonist. Still, it’s a beautifully produced piece of cinema featuring a wonderful central performance and some absolutely breathtaking imagery.

"I walked through the desert with a camel with no name..."

“I walked through the desert with a camel with no name…”

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Non-Review Review: Mystery Road

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

Mystery Road is mostly atmosphere. Its plot is fairly standard neo-noir drugs thriller fare; its characters are pretty stock. However, Ivan Sen’s Australian thriller has a palpable sense of dread and anxiety that seems to press down on the film. There’s a slow boil pressure cooker at the heart of the film, which rather brilliantly taps into standard film noir storytelling conventions and translates them effortlessly to the Outback.

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