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Non-Review Review: True History of the Kelly Gang

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

It’s very lucid,” notes a supporting character of the eponymous text.

The young teacher has just read the introductory paragraph of a letter that outlaw Ned Kelly has prepared for his son, a way of sharing the truth of events with his heir. Kelly will subsequently bind the paper to himself, wrapping it to his midsection beneath plates of metal armour. That same teacher will later ruminate on the blood-stained documents, dismissing Kelly’s story as nothing more than “the ravings of a madman.” Perhaps both statements are true. Perhaps the letter is more true for the fact that it is incoherent and existential poetry.

True History of the Kelly Gang prefaces its title with a warning to the audience that “nothing you’re about to see is true.” The word “true” then serves as a bridge from that preamble into the movie itself, lingering on the screen long enough to be incorporated into the no-frills titlecard for True History of the Kelly Gang. Truth and fiction linger and intersect, contradictions rippling through the finished film. Watching True History of the Kelly Gang, one gets a sense of how these contradictory statements can each be accurate in their own way.

True History of the Kelly Gang is both a vivid waking dream and a complete narrative mess, simultaneously.

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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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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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