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Fat Girl   B+

Cowboy Pictures

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Catherine Breillat
Writer: Catherine Breillat
Cast: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo, Arsinée Khanjian, Romain Goupil.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

First of all, I hated, hated, hated French filmmaker Catherine Breillat's previous film: the pretentious, spiteful, and ridiculous art-house quasi-porno Romance. Many critics loved it. I, however, wanted Catherine Breillat to reimburse me for the 90 minutes of my life she brutally snatched away (of course, it was my fault: I rented it, after all). So it was with slight trepidation that I approached her latest film, Fat Girl, partly expecting more long-winded and empty psychobabble about sex and relationships from characters who hardly seem human.

Well, damn, what can I say? This one's a shocker.

The film centers on two sisters on a summer vacation with their self-centered parents. Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) is 12, overweight, and eats a lot, while Elena (Roxane Mesquida) is 15, pretty, and gets all the attention from boys. In the first scene, the two sisters are talking about boys and sex. Elena, who has a reputation of sleeping around even though she's never gone "all the way," wants her first time to be with someone she loves and vice versa, as one would assume is the case for most teenage girls. Anaïs, on the other hand, says that she wants to lose her virginity to someone she doesn't love, a nobody, so that when she finally meets that special someone, she'll already be broken in.

The two girls meet a young law student named Fernando (Libero De Rienzo) at a café. Fernando ends up making out with Elena five minutes after they meet, while Anaïs eats away at her banana split on the other side of the table. Soon enough, Fernando is making late-night stops in the girls' bedroom to spend a little time under the covers with Elena. They express little concern over the fact that Anaïs is sleeping on her bed in the corner of the room, or "pretending" to sleep, as she sees and hears everything that Elena and Fernando are doing. Anaïs winds up crying herself to sleep one night as this is going on.

As with many siblings, Anaïs and Elena have a love-hate relationship; it is honestly depicted, sometimes brutal, and ultimately touching. The girls lash out and hurt each other's feelings without a second thought, but there's an underlying affection and understanding between them. Anaïs Reboux (only 13 during the filming) is shockingly good here, while Roxane Mesquida delivers a similarly powerful and realistic performance. It's the chemistry between them that holds the film together. Without the very human performances from these two girls, I probably would have come away from Fat Girl feeling as angry as I did after seeing Romance.

In any case, Fat Girl continues Catherine Breillat's exploration of sexual psychology from a female perspective, and it's as likely to infuriate and shock as it is to provoke thought and discussion. Like Romance (but to a lesser extent), the film feels a bit too self-indulgent and Breillat still comes off like she's using her characters to carry out her own twisted agenda. Even so, her characters come off as real people this time around, people worth caring about, however flawed they might be.

As a warning to the timid, however, I should point out that the film contains full frontal nudity (male and female) and explicit sexual situations involving children. In fact, the film has been banned in Ontario, Canada because of its content. And let's just say that once the film is over, you may feel like you've just been hit across the face with a ten-ton hammer. You may very well feel violated and abused.

It's okay, though. I feel your pain. Just know that Catherine Breillat doesn't shy away from inflicting pain upon her audience. It's not that she necessarily delights in hurting the audience, but rather that her movies are very personal and she's making them primarily for herself (at least that's what I read in an interview). I think it's refreshing to see such blatant disregard for audience expectations. In the end, Fat Girl has the disturbing ring of real life, with all of its staggering cruelty, and it remains haunting long after it's over. Oh, yeah, this one's a shocker.

Review published 12.07.2001.

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