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Justin Kurzel: ‘The killing that Nitram is talking about has traumatized all of Australia’

The director of Macbeth and Assassin’s Creed portrays a mass killer in Nitram, with Caleb Landry Jones, prize for male interpretation at the last Cannes festival.

An Australian trauma
Justin Kurzel:
“The killing spoken of Nitram took place in Tasmania, in Port Arthur, in 1996. It was, at the time, the worst mass shooting in history, and the event was all the more staggering because it took place in a a place of exceptional splendour, very peaceful, within a close-knit community. Everyone in Australia remembers where he was that day when he heard the news. But there is also a generation of people born later, who are under 25, and who don’t really know this story. The killing generated such a shock wave that, within twelve days, a law was passed modifying the rules for the sale and possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Shaun Grant, the screenwriter, and I were very aware that this is a very sensitive subject for many Australians. The wounds are still raw. Shaun lives in Los Angeles, that is to say in a country where mass shootings are the daily lot of the population, a country which wonders if a law allowing a better control of firearms will be able to be adopted one day. Shaun clearly envisioned Nitram like a movie calling for a gun reform. When I read the scene where Martin walks into a gun shop and gets guns as easily as buying fishing gear, without the need for any permits, it resonated with me more than any rostrum or editorial. There was something about the horror and absurdity of that scene that made me want to make the film.”

From Texas to Australia
“I was already a fan of Caleb (Landry Jones), I had seen him in many films, and I very quickly thought of him after reading the script. He is Texan, not Australian, but that’s not was not very awkward in the sense that there is something about Caleb that transcends his own identity. He is very versatile. It was interesting to talk to a outsider of this story, a story that all Australians know, but not the rest of the world. Texans and Australians are linked by this incredible relationship they have with the landscape, with large scales, with immensity, with infinite spaces. Moreover, many Australians, when they go to the United States, love to visit Texas! So even though he was from halfway around the world, there was something about the Texas idiosyncrasies that prepared Caleb for our movie.”

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Route of a monster
“In Australia, Martin Bryant is considered a monster. Nitram tells how he got to this point where he becomes a monster, where he makes this horrible decision. We examine his loneliness, his upbringing, his relationship to his parents, to other people around him… We are not trying to create empathy but to make the viewer wonder about the feeling of familiarity that certain scenes or situations can provoke. Because we can recognize this character, some of his features, he can remind us of someone we have met in our life, perhaps at school… A connection is established. And little by little, we move towards this scene where he buys weapons, with this obscenity consisting in being able to obtain weapons so easily. I didn’t specifically want to make a political film, but it is, in fact.”

Kurzel unplugged
“After a few very noisy, very intense films, I wanted to come back to something more contained, simpler. To work again with Shaun, who wrote my first film, The Snowtown Crimes. I came back to live in Australia three or four years ago, after living in London for six years, and I want to tell Australian stories again. The Kelly Gangmy previous film (about the brigand Ned Kelly, a kind of Australian Jesse James, a film released directly on video in France – editor’s note) played on the notion of truth and folklore, on what is true or not, on the way in which someone’s history can be stolen from them, torn away. The film was driven by a rather extreme energy, and Nitram is a sort of reaction to this film: the two deal with violence but in totally opposite ways. This time, I was looking for something very simple, stripped down.”

Nitramby Justin Kurzel, with Caleb Landry Jones, currently at the cinema.

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