Actress Aisling Franciosi plays Clare, an Irish convict in Tasmania in 1825
Australian director Jennifer Kent has defended her new film The Nightingale following criticism about its graphic scenes of rape and murder.
The film tells the story of a female convict seeking revenge amid colonial violence in 19th Century Tasmania.
Its depictions of rape prompted some viewers to walk out of screenings in Sydney on Monday, local media reported.
Kent said the filmmakers had received “more than a few” positive messages from survivors of sexual violence.
“Whilst The Nightingale contains historically accurate depictions of colonial violence and racism towards our indigenous people, the film is not ‘about’ violence,” she said in a statement on Monday.
“It’s about the need for love, compassion and kindness in dark times.”
The film, starring Aisling Franciosi, has won accolades including last year’s special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival.
But it has drawn controversy after screenings at the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday and Monday, ahead of a nationwide release.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) reported that several people had walked out during the film, with one saying loudly: “I’m not watching this. She’s already been raped twice.”
However, others who said they had seen the film defended it as exploring important subjects.
Skip Twitter post by @jesuevalle
THE NIGHTINGALE made me do something I thought I would never do. I walked out. There was a point when I just needed to take myself away from that brutal space. But I recognised that this is an important film so I walked back in and watched the rest of the movie.
— Jesue V (@jesuevalle) June 9, 2019
Kent said she and Franciosi had been personally contacted by sexual violence victims who were “grateful for the film’s honesty and who have drawn comfort from its themes”.
“I do not believe this would be happening if the film was at all gratuitous or exploitative,” she said.
The writer-director said she had also collaborated with Aboriginal elders in Australia to present an “honest and necessary depiction their history”.
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Kent is best known for directing 2014 horror film The Babadook.
The Nightingale also stars Baykali Ganambarr as an indigenous tracker who guides Franciosi’s character through the Tasmanian bush, as she seeks revenge against a British officer, played by Sam Claflin.