ARCHIVE REVIEW: Fat Girl

Fat Girl
Directed by: Catherine Breillat
Written by: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo, and Romain Goupil

Catherine Breillat is one of the most provocative filmmakers currently working today.  Unlike Michael Bay, though, her cinema is provocative because it is endlessly interesting instead of tedious.  She creates a beautiful world in Fat Girl, though it is by no means an easy film to watch.  On the surface it is an exploration of adolescent female sexuality, but once you peel back the layers it becomes much more than that.

In interviews Breillat talks of her fascination with sisters, and how she likes to explore the idea of two bodies sharing a soul.  If that is the case than the soul in Fat Girl is very much fractured.  Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) is the title character, a mildly but not extraordinarily obese 12-year-old.  We watch her as she watches her beautiful 15-year-old sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida) lose her innocence on a seemingly innocent vacation fling with Fernando (Libero De Rienzo).

These three characters occupy the core of the narrative, with parents taking the background except when they surface to lecture or scold.  In an astonishing 20-minute nude scene, we watch Elena and Fernando banter back and forth about whether or not they will consummate their relationship after the first date.  Elena is not ready, but the charming Fernando slowly peels back the layers.  This scene was shot in an excruciating single take, but Breillat breaks it up (if you can call it that) with anguished shots of Anaïs covering her eyes and sneaking looks.

Fernando is a fascinating antagonist.  He comes off as suave and romantic, but ultimately wields jewelry and words like “love” as weapons to tricking Elena into sex.  Anaïs seems to notice this, but Elena is enraptured; Anaïs is reason, Elena all-consuming passion.

Though it is only 86 minutes, there is another graphic sex scene between Elena and Fernando.  We watch Anaïs more in this scene, as she faces the camera and cries as the two make love in the background.  She’s given up hope at the tender age of 12, making her Fernando’s second victim.

Though the treatment of the characters could really only be described as harsh, Breillat shoots Fat Girl with a keen but economical visual sense.  She prefers to find the natural beauty in the seaside villa where the family is taking a vacation rather than using unique camera angles.  This suits the film quite well because it gives us room to explore the surroundings instead of focusing our gaze.  It’s French to its very core, which will likely turn many away from it even before they realize it’s about adolescent sexuality.

Anaïs, for all her lectures, is quite jealous of Elena’s beauty and the fruits it yields her.  In a poignant early scene we see Anaïs swimming in a pool, talking to a ladder and the diving platform like they are boys fighting over her and then kissing them.  It wouldn’t work if there weren’t a good actress in the role, but Anaïs Reboux is very skilled.  On her face we see suffering that a 12-year-old shouldn’t have, but we also see eyes that suggest she is always thinking something.  Breillat’s camera knows this, and she lingers on that face several times.

Anaïs’ violent fate at the end of the movie spurred a lot of discussion and is the source for much of the film’s controversy.  It may seem to come out of nowhere, but it actually fits in with the rest of the film.  Watch the movie’s best scene, a touching conversation between the two sisters, for Anaïs to reveal her desire to lose her virginity to a man she doesn’t love and then re-examine the ending.

Breillat suggests that this rapist was really just after the same thing as Fernando in a more straightforward fashion.  It’s a shocking film that she intended to shock.  It is not quite a feminist parable because men and women are both treated quite harshly, but it does suggest that even through their most well-seeming intentions, men often repress women.  Each character has many faults, and it is in the meshing of those where Breillat operates on such a kinetic level.  Fat Girl is not an enjoyable film to watch, but it is thought-provoking and brilliant filmmaking.

Grade: A-

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