Natalia Leite’s focus on female exploitation in her second feature film, M.F.A (Master of Fine Arts), comes as no surprise. Her previous work delved deep into themes of self-worth, such as stripping in her documentary series, Every Woman, and her first feature film, Bare, explored sexuality, romance and drugs. Leite’s latest film deals with mental health, suicide and examines the desire for pure revenge. With her track-record, it’s understandable Leite created M.F.A with no restrictions in a censorship-free environment.
M.F.A. follows the life of Noelle through her Fine Art graduation in an American college through a heartfelt performance by Francesca Eastwood. The plot takes a speedy twist from perhaps a bloom of romance, to Noelle being a rape victim. Leite doesn’t spare the audience from the brutality of rape through several jaw-clenching scenes that are truly shocking and hard to watch.
“Follows conventions of a crime detective film”
This film isn’t for the faint hearted. It becomes an accidental revenge plot through her outburst of anger which results in a justice-thirsty journey, packed with haunting undertones of self-discovery and triumph gained through the hunt and slaughter of the campus’s sexual predators. On top of this, M.F.A. also follows conventions of a crime detective film, as Noelle herself becomes a target. The overall impact is undeniably shocking as the audience is forced to think about who is in the right and who really is the victim.
“As it progresses, the plot loses reality”
The film doesn’t lend itself to an easy revenge-plot familiar to most audiences due to its juggling of many other thought-provoking subjects. Leite’s directly comments on depression and suicide portrayed through empty shots generally of a deserted swimming pool leaving a cold feeling. Arguably, the director takes on too many serious elements and fails to adequately address them all under one revenge plot. The central message of the lack of rape justice on American campuses becomes a little lost. As it progresses, the plot loses reality. This shortcoming does not, however, overshadow what is an unforgettable story of feminist liberation and transformation.
“M.F.A. is an extremely graphic”
Clearly M.F.A. was made in direct response to the disturbing problem of rape cases and corruption within American colleges. This was brought into the public domain by the case of Brock Allen Turner in 2016. Campaigners claim the justice system allows young men to escape being charged and instead places blame on the victim. M.F.A. is an extremely graphic, but never exploitative, contribution to debate on this current controversy.
Deservedly, M.F.A. has been nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at SXSW and already won an Audience Award at the Hungary International Film Festival. Natalia Leite is definitely one to keep an eye on for her future projects with her powerful feminist perspective on life and troubling experiences. But be warned. Audiences need to be prepared for an evening of extremely thought-provoking cinema. For those interested further in the increase of sexual assault and corruption in American colleges, The Hunting Ground documentary on Netflix is an excellent examination of this epidemic.
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Image Courtesy of Broadway Cinema.