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Jennifer Kent: Moviegoers Have ‘Every Right’ to Walk Out of ‘Nightingale’ Over Rape Scenes

Several audience members at the film's Australian premiere were outraged over the film's graphic violence.

"The Nightingale"

“The Nightingale”

IFC Films

Australia’s own Jennifer Kent brought her latest directorial effort “The Nightingale” to the Sydney Film Festival, where the revenge thriller had its Australian world premiere June 9 and proved too brutal for some moviegoers. As reported by The Telegraph and Australia’s News.com, numerous audience members walked out of “The Nightingale” premiere because of the film’s multiple brutal rape scenes in its first 30 minutes. One audience member who walked out was heard shouting, “She’s already been raped, we don’t need to see it again.”

“The Nightingale” stars “Game of Thrones” breakout Aisling Franciosi as Claire, an Irish convict living under the thumb of a British officer (Sam Claflin). The officer rapes Claire when she asks him to make good on a longstanding promise to release her from her bonds. In one scene, Claire’s husband and infant daughter are forced to watch her be the victim of a sexual assault.

Kent was in attendance at the movie’s Sydney Film Festival screening, telling the sold-out audience before the film began that making the project was the hardest thing she’s ever done. The writer-director was asked during a post-screening Q&A what she would say to the audience members who walked out, to which she said she “totally understands” why people might react with outrage to her movie. Kent said viewers have “every right” to be upset and not continue watching the movie because of its graphic violence, and she added that directing these scenes was not enjoyable or easy either.

Kent said directing “The Nightingale” was “heartbreaking,” revealing she cried throughout the entire filmmaking and post-production process on the film. Despite her own struggles with the film’s violence, Kent said the film “needed” to be accurate in depicting the time period’s violence against woman. The last thing Kent wanted to do was soften these scenes just because it’s a movie.

“The Nightingale” world premiered last August at the Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded a Special Jury Prize. IndieWire’s Michael Nordine called the film’s rape scenes among “the most harrowing you’re likely to see,” but he commended Kent for her approach with such controversial and graphic subject matter.

“Kent never shies away from the brutality at the center of this tale but neither does she rub our noses in it,” Nordine wrote. “There’s nothing cathartic in Clare’s efforts to mete out justice, with one tragedy merely compounding another; the higher the body count rises, the more zero-sum it all becomes. This isn’t the fun kind of revenge drama, and by the end it hardly feels like a revenge movie at all — Kent is as concerned with the plight of Australia’s indigenous people as she is with Clare’s.”

IFC Films is handling U.S. distribution for “The Nightingale.” The film opens in theaters August 2.

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