M.F.A. **** U.S.A. 2017 Dir: Natalia Leite. 95 mins
Naïve, alienated art student Francesca Eastwood hooks up with an attractive classmate (Peter Vack), whose nice guy persona conceals predatory, misogynistic leanings. In the heat of passion, he ignores her pleas to slow down and rapes her in a suitably hard-to-watch sequence. Advised by her roommate (screenwriter Leah McKendrick) to write the experience off as “one shitty night” or risk being labelled a “slut”, Eastwood instead takes a wholly different path, inspired by a fatal accident to hunt down similar campus rapists who escaped the legal system.
Released in the U.S. in the week that one of the country’s pre-eminent movie producers was exposed as a serial sex pest, this thought-provoking drama adapts a theme familiar from countless exploitation movies (rape-revenge) into a condemnation of America’s “rape culture”. Exorcising her own experience with sexual assault, director Leite uses Eastwood’s complex character to lament ineffectual campus groups who “spread awareness” without getting to the root of the problem, while lambasting a system that incriminates and demeans victims while allowing the perpetrators to reoffend. Like the hit Netflix series 13 REASONS WHY, it portrays an unsympathetic school therapist whose obnoxiously scratching pen acts as a suitably grating soundtrack while she interrogates her traumatised student about whether she said “no” or “wait”. Refusing to pander to genre expectations of this subject matter, the movie is galvanised by Eastwood’s outstanding performance, capturing the wit, intelligence and humanity of a young woman who transitions from inexperienced victim to embittered yet empowered activist. While the similarly abused women of the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE movies become sadistically creative fantasy-vigilantes just to ensure a succession of crowd-pleasing castration set pieces, here’s a movie about a real woman battling the injustices of an all too real world.
Review by Steven West