À ma soeur!
review by Paula Nechak, 26 October
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
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.
Libero De Rienzo
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
yet been rated.