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20.12.08

Fat Girl (2001)





Director: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Anais Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero Di Rienzo, Arsinee Kharjian
Unrated, 83 minutes
Released by Criterion





We start out with a story about two sisters: twelve-year-old Anais is overweight and frumpy, Elena is three years older, beautiful, and popular with the young men. Though they love each other a great deal, Elena confesses to her sister that she must bring Anais along with her on her outings in order to appease their parents. Anais knows this and is equally unhappy with the situation; she says she is sick of being Elena's ball-and-chain. While out one afternoon the sisters meet a much older man, a twentysomething Italian law student named Fernando who is instantly attracted to Elena. A summertime romance begins, while Anais seeks comfort in an enormous banana split. After a very brief courtship, Fernando sneaks into the girls bedroom one night and attempts to badger Elena into having sex with him. Elena is a virgin and would prefer to stay that way; she wants to know that she is loved before she will relent to Fernando's pressure. Fernando says that he loves her, and threatens to sleep with other girls if Elena will not give in. There is a very painful compromise made. Anais, in a bed nearby, has only been pretending to be asleep and has witnessed the entire act.

Fernando has promised his love to Elena, giving her an enormous opal ring to demonstrate his sincerity. Elena is overwhelmed by this gesture and believes that they will marry shortly after she finshes school. Anais, the eternal cynic, warns her sister that taking the ring may not mean what Elena thinks it means. Elena disagrees, and allows Fernando to return in the night and take what he has wanted the entire time. Anais, once again pretending to sleep, weeps as her sister loses her innocence.

The affair comes to an abrupt end when the girl's parents discover what is going on. Their mother is furious and heartbroken, and tearfully drives her devastated children back home. And then something happens. It is so shocking and so unexpected that it changes Fat Girl from a quiet and naturalistic study of the lives of two sisters into something else altogether.

Catherine Breillat has gained a reputation for using onscreen sex in her films the way Sam Peckinpah used violence. Fat Girl is no exception. The love scenes between Fernando and Elena are explicit to say the least, made even more startling by the fact that Roxane Mesquida, who plays Elena, certainly looks like a fifteen-year-old girl. Mesquida was actually in her twenties at the time of filming - a fact which did not prevent the film from being banned in a handful of countries. I cannot imagine the film's jaw-dropping conclusion helping its case. It is legimately shocking, not only because of the things that we are seeing, but also that they are so completely unexpected. Some have suggested that Breillat simply ran out of ideas and had to resort to shock tactics. I don't think that this was the case; everything that preceded the film's climax is much too precise, too measured, and too confident to believe that Breillat would simply tack on a throwaway finale. If anything, it may be a little too ambiguous for its own good - denying the viewer any sense of closure or comfort.

This is one of those movies that will leave you feeling like you've just been hit over the head with a shovel. For a film which largely consists of dialogue and dialogue alone, that is quite an accomplishment. Bergman did it better than no other. Catherine Breillat is no Bergman, but she does possess a similar understanding of the human heart.

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