Nitram: The controversial film that received a seven-minute standing ovation at Cannes

‘Nitram’ focuses on Port Arthur massacre that left 35 people dead in 1996

Clémence Michallon
New York City
Monday 19 July 2021 19:07 BST
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Cannes 2021: 'Nitram' by Australian director Justin Kurzel in competition

A controversial film about the deadliest mass shooting in Australia’s history has earned praise at the Cannes Film Festival.

Nitram, a drama-thriller by Australian director Justin Kurzel, focuses on the Port Arthur massacre, which left 35 people dead in 1996.

It stars Caleb Landry Jones (seen in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Get Out, and X-Men: First Class) as the perpetrator of the mass shooting.

The Port Arthur massacre led legislators to reshape gun control laws in Australia. Its perpetrator, Martin Bryant, is now serving 35 life sentences in prison.

After Nitram (“Martin” spelled backwards) premiered in Cannes, the audience rose to give it a seven-minute standing ovation, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Jones received the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor for his performance as Bryant.

Nitram has also received praise from critics. Deadline deemed it “a strong piece of work” and noted: “It’s clear what’s coming and dread sets in, though the director makes an unorthodox but very effective decision about how to handle the climax that serves his purposes extremely well.”

Variety called Nitram “exceptionally disturbing” and “horribly plausible”, adding: “The intense discomfort of this nitroglycerine meditation on what makes a mass murderer is exactly that of watching a lit firework burn down in your hand toward its gunpowder base, unable to let go of it, transfixed by its snapping sparks.”

The Guardian gave the movie a four-star review, describing it as “a hypnotically disquieting movie”.

Prior to its release, Nitram attracted criticism from Australian filmmaker Richard Keddie, who wrote in an op-ed for The Sydney Morning Herald: “Art does not justify a Martin Bryant movie ... I believe a movie about Martin Bryant is entirely irresponsible and should be stopped in its tracks.”

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Kurzel, who lives in Tasmania, where the massacre occurred, recently defended his film in an interview with AFP, telling the agency that “there are generations who are not aware of Port Arthur”.

“I understand why we have had a lot of heat and why some are very distressed about a film being made,” he added. “But we made it because of the absolute absurdity of a character like this walking into a gun store and being able to buy semi-automatic weapons like fishing rods.”

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