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Dispatches from the Venice Film Festival: A Festival Dominated by Female Characters Culminates with The Nightingale

This year with the #MeToo movement, film festivals have been scrutinized in terms of having enough female representation. The talented and uncompromising director of Mostra Internationale d’Arte Cinematografica di Venezia, Alberto Barbera, who has always been impartial to quality filmmaking was accused by the Hollywood Reporter of reflecting “Italy’s Culture of Toxic Masculinity.” Even Jacques Audiard, presenting his male-oriented film The Sisters Brothers, called out gender inequality at the Venice Film Festival.

But the truth is that only 21% of films submitted were by female directors and Barbera  — who opposes the idea of judging a movie by the gender of its director — conscientiously exposed: “You can’t change things from the outcome, they have to change from the start.

Contrary to all accusations, this 75th edition of the festival had female characters dominate the silver screen: Roma (Alfonso Cuarón), A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper), The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos), Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino), L’Amica Geniale (Saverio Costanzo), La quieted (Pablo Trapero), Napszállta (László Nemes), Acusada (Gonzalo Tobal), Vox Lux (Brady Corbet), Capri-Revolution (Mario Martone). These are just the films in Competition and also the other sections (Out of Competition, Orizzonti, Giornate degli Autori, Settimana della Critica, Sconfini) include many more stories about women.

Male directors who have explored the theme of female empowerment have portrayed an ennobling image of womanhood: strong headed, sympathetic, and temperamentally principled.

The only film in Competition by a female director — The Nightingale — imbues in her protagonist different characteristics. Jennifer Kent conveys the frailty and vulnerability of womanhood, that almost seem to acquire a male perspective on the female worldview, while intertwining a historical snapshot of the Black War.

The story is set in 1825 in Australia. Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict woman,  is desperate to be free of her abusive master, Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) who refuses to release her from his charge. Clare’s husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby), retaliates and she becomes the victim of a harrowing crime at the hands of the British officers. Seeking her revenge, Clare chases the men who committed a terrible act of violence against her family. To track them down, through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, the girl enlists the help of the Aboriginal Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), who is also marked by trauma from his own past.

The gentle girl with a nightingale voice, turns from dove to War Hawk, but the character construction does not have the same approach as The Bride in Kill Bill — where Tarantino portrays an unfaltering woman who rises from her ashes. Clare is indecisive, torn between her thirst for vengeance and her compassionate soul. Kent provides a gender-free depiction of what it is to be a woman. It neither glorifies her, nor does it constrict her in stereotyped-hysteria. Clare is contradictory with her emotions, not as a woman but as a human being.