SXSW 2017 Review: M.F.A.
Natalia Leite’s M.F.A. opened up to an overwhelmingly positive crowd at this year’s SXSW festival. Unlike some of the more light-hearted films to come out of the festival, M.F.A is a dark, devastating and yet, empowering tale of an unlikely vigilante. At points, the movie is hard to watch, though necessary for the tone and consequences of the story. However, some of the most difficult films to watch, are the ones people need to see the most.
M.F.A. follows the quiet and timid, Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of her peers. While a part of her school’s visual arts M.F.A program, Noelle is consistently bullied by classmates and professors alike for her poor showing of artistic creativity. Noelle has a knack for drawing and painting but has a hard time executing her creativity. Noelle falls for her classmate, Luke (Peter Vack) who seem’s like a genuinely nice guy on the surface. Little did she know, Luke is not only a complete jerk, but he’s also a violent and unempathetic rapist, which Noelle is the victim of.
The act of disgust in question is a brave and relentlessly shot scene, that Leite pulled off without being “too much.” Her direction is a character in itself, with very little budget to work with, the final product is some of the most engaging storytelling I have yet to see this year. Noelle, who soon realizes her school will do nothing to help her, as well as her best friend Skye, who tells her to keep the incident to herself. This is when Noelle comes to the realization internally that she will not be a victim, she is going to be a vigilante.
Franchesca Eastwood’s performance is utterly spectacular. She carries the film on her shoulders and nails every scene she’s in, while also having this odd likeability to her that isn’t typical for modern day protagonists. Even when Noelle goes into full blown violent vigilante mode, Eastwood never loses sight of who the character of Noelle is. Her quietness, minor quips of humor and all around intentions are expertly balanced by Eastwood, making herself instantly the next big thing in the industry.
What Natalia Leite and screenwriter Leah McKendrick are able to accomplish in the film’s 95-minute runtime is extraordinary. Every shot means something, every story point is filled with meaning. However, sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming when the story takes a break to address current social commentary issues. We see issues of how institutions handle rape accusations, how woman present themselves and the ugly things men say to them, addiction, creative power, victim-blaming etc. While these are all important and current topics, it seemed like they tried to cram a little too much in the story, taking away from Noelle’s revenge.
M.F.A. is still an engaging and thought-provoking thriller for the majority of its runtime.The story goes to places you don’t expect it to, without ever feeling like it’s uncharacteristic or for shock value. The story of this young woman and the way she chooses to go about this awful, unforgivable act of violence would be hard to pull off if it was in lesser hands. The direction is spectacular, risky and wonderfully realized by Natalia Leite. The award-worthy performance from Francesca Eastwood is mesmerizing, with her emotional range simply indescribable. M.F.A. is a film to look out for, and one all should seek.
M.F.A. premiered March 13th, 2017 at the SXSW Film Festival