M.F.A.

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“Like father, like daughter”

I say the above, since the father of the star here is Clint Eastwood, possibly the most famous vigilante in cinematic history. He gave us Dirty Harry, who memorably spat out lines such as, “When an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard – that’s my policy.” This apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Though Noelle, the art student who becomes an avenging force after being raped at a party by a fellow student, takes a little longer to get to that point of unrepentant street justice. Her first victim is purely accidental, her attacker falling over a balcony after she confronts him, in the hope of getting some kind of apology. Doesn’t happen, and his death doesn’t exactly cause her sorrow. When she realizes she is also far from alone in what she has gone through, she decides that active retaliation is the best approach.

There’s something particularly timely about watching this, the same week that the truth about Harvey Weinstein finally came out. For it’s clear that the film world is far from the sole province of jackasses who use their power to abuse women: the music business, for example, is no better, and colleges appear to be another rat-fest. Yet despite this, the script here is considerably more measured than I expected. Given the current climate, I certainly wouldn’t have blamed writer McKendrick (who plays Noelle’s room-mate Skye too) for going off on a misanthropic rant about #AllMen. It’s to her credit she doesn’t, adopting instead a laudably nuanced approach. The men here run the gamut from good to bad – perhaps more surprisingly, so do  the women. The campus victim support group is entirely useless; the college psychiatrist is worse still, actively engaged in suppressing incidents so they don’t enter the public record.

Even the vigilantism at the film’s core is not portrayed as universally the right thing. The film suggest it may do more harm than good when you carry it out on behalf of other people – perhaps doing more damage by re-opening wounds they are trying to heal. For some victims would rather forget it and move on, writing off their experience as “one shitty night,” and refusing to let it define who they are. Noelle’s action robs them of the ability to do that, arguably an abuse of power in another way. It’s all remarkably complex, and the film doesn’t shy away from any of the mess. I haven’t even discussed how Noelle takes her experience and transforms it through her (initially mediocre) art, truly a case of the Nietzschean aphorism, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

It’s all far more thought-provoking than I expected, and it helps there’s something of a young Angelina Jolie about Eastwood, between her high cheekbones and expressive eyes. Though it did take me virtually the entire movie to figure out what the title meant; I’ll spare the torment and let you know it’s a peculiarly American phrase, being an abbreviation for “Master of Fine Arts.” In the UK, there’s nothing “fine” about those degrees, they’re just M.A’s. Never let it be said we don’t educate as well as entertain here…

Dir: Natalia Leite
Star: Francesca Eastwood, Leah McKendrick, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Welch

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