Film Review | The Nightingale (2019)

the nightingale aisling francoisi sam claflin jennifer kent review alex moreland

Kent lingers on the violence, lingers on assault, lingers on the casual, visceral nature of this world; the camera holds its gaze far longer than one can bear, deliberately unsettling audiences and challenging them not to look away. Indeed, The Nightingale is designed for the cinema experience – being able to look away from the laptop screen and check Twitter defeats the point of Kent’s unrelenting direction, however necessary it might sometimes feel.

Here’s my review of The Nightingale, accompanying my recent interview with its two lead actors.

It’s an interesting film, The Nightingale – as I remark in the review, it’s a movie that’s far easier to respect than to like. There’s a lot about it that’s hugely, hugely impressive: not just Jennifer Kent’s direction, but also the performances of Aisling Francoisi and Sam Claflin. (And indeed of Baykali Ganambarr – I’m a little annoyed with myself I didn’t find the space to mention to his performance in the review itself, it’s quite a notable omission.)

I wasn’t especially fond of it when I first watched it; my appreciation of it has grown since then, though, the more I’ve thought about it. It’s definitely a film that benefits from deeper thought and consideration – certainly, had I reviewed it closer to when I watched the film, I’d have likely written about it more critically than I ultimately did. Admittedly I’m not super pleased with the review itself: I think perhaps I could’ve done a stronger piece of writing about the film than I actually did, particularly in the second half of the review.

Still, though. Pretty pleased with that segment I quoted above. Good set of sentences, that.

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Aisling Francoisi and Sam Claflin on The Nightingale

sam claflin aisling francoisi the nightingale interview jennifer kent alex moreland

You should never see a scene of – well, any kind of violence, but in this case, sexual violence and not be made to feel uncomfortable. In my opinion, it’s filmed wrong if you don’t feel repulsed by it – there’s something wrong in the way that it’s been depicted.

This is a very exciting one! First-ever video interview. Not that you can actually see me in it, mind – I’m rather more suited to a radio career than television – but I was in the room, and they were filmed, so it counts. And it was a pretty cool experience generally, so that’s good.

I’ve linked directly to the YouTube video above, but there’s also a little bit of a write-up over at Flickering Myth, if you’re interested in that as well. It’s a good interview, I think – we only had a relatively short time together, but still managed to get to the heart of what’s proving to be quite a challenging film. (I’ll have my own review of The Nightingale up in a few days – it’s certainly quite a striking film, if nothing else.)

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Genius: Picasso interrogates how gender has defined our understanding of genius

genius picasso gender feminism national geographic title sequence antonio banderas alex rich clemence poesy samantha colley noah pink ken biller title sequence painting shine studio

Genius draws attention to how the patriarchal expectations imposed on Francoise Gilot, by both Picasso and society in general, limit her success as an artist; just a few short weeks after Picasso left Francoise “alone, sick and pregnant to care for a baby for almost a month” while he was in Poland, he objects to her going to Paris, asking “Who’s going to look after the children?” The parallels aren’t subtle – he refuses to look after the children because he “wouldn’t get any work done”, when just a few lines earlier Francoise told an art dealer “I’m afraid I don’t have anything new to show you. I’ve been too busy with the children”. Another moment, reminiscent of many recent #MeToo stories, sees the same art dealer tell Francoise he can no longer represent her, for fear of Picasso’s anger – even after their relationship has ended, Picasso’s influence continues to stymy her art.

Genius: Picasso does some genuinely interesting work in terms of its depiction of female artists; its interrogation of how gender has defined, and restricted, our understanding of genius isn’t so much subtext as it is openly, emphatically… text. The National Geographic drama isn’t just about great men of history, but about the genius left unacknowledged, the genius that wasn’t allowed to thrive, because of such a traditionally myopic understanding of what is or isn’t genius. Time and time again, Genius: Picasso asks why you’re not instead watching Genius: Maar or Genius: Gilot instead, and the indisputable answer it offers is a suffocating, gendered understanding of genius.

I was left in a bit of an odd place with this piece.

My plan, from around the fifth episode of Genius: Picasso, was to write an article about how the show depicts creativity, and the struggle to define your creativity – as well as perhaps also touching on how it grapples with the myth of apolitical art, and the need to use your platform responsibly when you have one. I might still write about that a bit, actually, I’m not sure.

Anyway, though, as I came to write it, I found it difficult to get to grips with that piece, in part because my plan to do it as a sort of personal essay seemed more than a little pretentious and arrogant (convinced though I am that we’ll eventually reach Genius: Moreland). Plus, I was increasingly fixated on another angle I’d thought of for Genius – how it engaged with gender. At first I was planning on writing it for the Mary Shelley series (giving me time to catch up on the Einstein series, which had apparently also done some interesting things vis a vis its depiction of women), or maybe the fourth series if it were also about a woman (I’ve kinda plotted out a 5+ series arc for Genius in my head where it’s this really interesting, feminist sotry).

But! I couldn’t get the creativity piece to work, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the gender angle, so this is the piece I wrote. I was quite pleased with it in the end; it’s a little longer than my Yahoo columns tend to be, though I had a lot of ideas I wanted to cover, and even then didn’t quite manage to get all of them in. I must say, I really did quite enjoy Genius.

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