M.F.A. (2017) [Fantasia International Film Festival]

An art student has a switch in her painting style and inspiration following the accidental death of her rapist.  Following this, she paints more and more inspired pieces and is inspired to do something about other college rapists.

M.F.A. is a rape-revenge film written by Leah McKendrick and directed by Natalia Leite that takes a different route to the revenge and violence that the sub-genre usually offers.  M.F.A. is built and feels more like a regular drama mixed with a few murders, almost slasher in style, except the way these are mixed makes it work.  The film takes the point of view of women in the current culture, which is often dubbed rape culture, where they are blamed or found to have put themselves at risk then they report a rape while the accused rapist often gets away with just a slap on the wrist.  The film here shows this from the point of view of one victim mainly and also from the point of view a few others that help bring the point home.  It’s a film with a message but not one that rams it down the public’s throat necessarily.  The story told here is one much too familiar to many women as 1 in 6 women has been a victim of attempted or completed rape (a quick web search will give many more stunning and scary statistics).  The film takes an approach to it that may be uncomfortable to many as it shows a few rape sequences in rather violent details, but these are necessary to get the point across as there are still far too many deniers of this issue.  Both the writer and director being women helped bring a female gaze on the issue and on the revenge angle of the story.

Considering the story and content of the film, casting was very important.  In the lead part of Noelle is Francesca Eastwood who here sports a look far from her usual blonde locks with a drastically darker black do which brings the emphasis on her big green eyes.  These eyes are very important in the film as she passes a lot of her emotions through them, connecting with the audience with sometimes just one look.  Her performance goes through many changes throughout the film which she shows through how she carries herself and presents herself.  This is one of those performances that should make people pay attention to the actress as she is amazing here.  Also giving a great performance is Leah McKendricks as Skye.  Here McKendrick gives a more emotional performance, one that will pull at the viewer unless they have a heart of stone.  She’s good counterbalance to Eastwood as she seems to be evolving in the opposite emotional direction.  The other strong female performance is Jess Nurse as Lindsey.  Her performance is also emotional and it rounds out the story very well.  Of course, these are just 3 of the performances.  Clifton Collins Jr. and Peter Vack also give good performance as does most of the rest of the cast.

M.F.A. is one of those movies that looks good and sounds good as well but is all about the story and how the performances.  The film depends on these performances, mainly Francesca Eastwood’s to pass an important message, one that here is taken in the rape-revenge direction but is no less important as many women (and men) go through similar rape situations as those portrayed in the film, something that seems to be kept silent on campuses to the advantage of the rapists who get away almost scott-free, something the film reminds the viewer is outrageous and angering.  The way the film goes at it is entertaining which keeps the viewer watching and engaged, thus creating a successful message film.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 13th to August 2nd.