Fat Girl
À ma soeur!
review by Paula Nechak, 26 October 2001

Either French director and writer Catherine Breillat is a psychological sorceress or she has primed some primordial sewage pump of memory for her film, À Ma Soeur - or Fat Girl - as the English title claims. I think the French title, which translates For My Sister fits better because this thinly disguised cinematic violation seems personal and elemental in its purging of childhood demons. Its Psychology 101 primal rage and fury run deeper than a mere clinical observer could muster. There simply must be more to the story.

Shot in a blinding and disquieting yellow light for the first reel, "Fat Girl" is disturbing, yes, and compellingly repulsive; like watching a murder, a rape or a child's molestation, it plays to the worst of our insecurities as it registers each component of the attraction-repulsion principle. But while there is something self-righteous and unbalanced about the film, we can't help but wonder which part Breillat must have played in its dysfunctional family order and upon which sister she has spread her Id.   

Fat Girl is about two teenage sisters; one, Elena (Roxanne Mesquida), a sullen vixen who believes herself a player of men but whose budding body surpasses her brain's ability to accurately read them. The younger, Anaïs (Anais Reboux), from whose eyes we view this miasma of familial misery and hormonal hatred, is also sullen but her antisocial behavior stems from being an overweight thirteen-year-old symbolically rubbed out by the shadow of a far more-desired sibling.

The film begins in summer's blinding light with Elena seductively bossing Anaïs into submission when they meet a handsome young man at a cafe near their annual vacation spot. Fernando (Libero De Rienzo) is a medical student and he is attracted to the carefree and permissive manner that Elena exudes. Anaïs only peers digusted, like a mole, accustomed to the dark and suddenly thrust into daylight, at their immediate dalliance.

Even at family breakfast Anaïs pouts, while mom (Arsinée Khanjian) frets and dad lives preoccupied in his world of business. Though he is surrounded by females, he cannot clearly see them and this role model of a relationship that acts as a paradigm of future marriage for the girls is fraught with fragile cracks and shaky tremors.

Elena struggles with Fernando's insistant pleas for sex, and the girl finally reluctantly relents, in a harrowing, ugly, devastating scene - no hazy vaseline on the lens which turns getting screwed into orgasmic, divine epiphany - in which the young man cajoles and taunts her for her wavering and, finally getting his wish, does so with Anaïs in the next bed, feigning sleep but frighteningly aware of what is happening.

This act marks a shift in how we perceive the film. There is a moment of touching revelation between the girls, and then a betrayal - suddenly the holiday is over, as is any whiff of innocence that lingered in their upset, competitive lives. Ultimately Anaïs' liberation and knowledge come at an unexpected, terrible price. Fat Girl contains a triple dose of psychological inferences and jealousy erupts into one of the most queasy and disturbing manifestations of sublimated desire, hatred and envy to hit the screen.

Certainly Breillat courts controversy - her 1999 film, Romance, divided critics and audiences and she never shied away from holding up a mirror of stark reality as far back as 36 fillette. But here, even Breillat may have lost her objectivity. It's important to remember that Breillat was born in 1948 - a key time that straddles two schools of thought -the 1950's housewife morality and the 1960's feminist movement. In between were few role models for young women - maybe Jeanne Moreau, Jane Fonda or Vanessa Redgrave - but we all know how the media excoriated them for their liberated ways and outspokenness. Fat Girl is post-feminist, for sure, but all it ultimately does, in its obviousness and shameless glee in lurid leering at its pubescent girls and their fading mother, is taunt that women are obliquely responsible for their own subjugation and that women directors are just as willing to exploit other women as their male counterparts.

Written and
Directed by:

Catherine Breillat 

Anaïs Reboux
Roxane Mesquida
Libero De Rienzo
Arsinée Khanjian
Romain Goupil
Laura Betti
Albert Goldberg
Claude Sese
Marc Samuel

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
yet been rated







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