Fat Girl
aka À ma soeur!
Reboux and Mesquida

France/Italy, 2001. Not rated. 83 minutes.

Cast: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo, Arsinée Khanjian, Romain Goupil, Laura Betti, Albert Goldberg
Writer: Catherine Breillat
Music: none credited
Cinematographer: Yorgos Arvanitis
Producer: Jean-François Lepetit
Director: Catherine Breillat


Grade: B Review by Carlo Cavagna

Who in his right mind would change the title of a film from To My Sister! to Fat Girl? That's what has happened to Catherine Breillat's new movie À ma soeur! for its U.S. release. To My Sister brings to mind one of those gentle, kind-hearted, schmaltzy European films that are so popular nowadays. Fat Girl brings to mind an unflatteringly sized young female. It's an austere and uncompromising title--nothing gentle or schmaltzy about it. Turns out, Fat Girl is the more honest appellation.

Breillat (Romance) will never be mistaken for a subtle filmmaker. Fat Girl is a feminist diatribe--a hate-note to men everywhere. It's not even dressed up in feel-good magical realism, like Antonia's Line. This is a good thing. Antonia's Line was fundamentally contrived and dishonest, while Fat Girl is raw, unflinching, and direct. And yet…though Fat Girl is a political polemic, it does not lecture the audience. Instead of telling us what to think, Breillat shows a plausible story, replete with the banal misfortunes and randomness of everyday life--a raw, real story with fully-drawn characters and an ending easily despised but not easily forgotten.

Fat Girl documents the budding sexuality of two young sisters, beguiling fifteen-year-old Elena (Roxane Mesquida), who mistakenly believes she is worldly, and poor overweight thirteen-year-old Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux), who knows Elena is not. Elena is beginning to experiment with sex. Through her, Breillat shows to what extent a young woman's sexuality can be shaped by men for their own benefit, and used. For Breillat, sex's true nature is sordid, dirty, and animalistic, not the romantic act of love that many women want to believe it is. Young women's romantized ideas about sex and first experiences are not just misguided, but tools men can use to get them to do what the men want.

Unlike Elena, Anaïs, the object of no one's desire, sees all this clearly. She does not want her first time to be with a man she loves, she emphatically states. She wants to experience sex for what it is before experiencing it with a man she loves. She wants the honesty of a raw, loveless sexual experience. Yet she too is naïve in some ways--secure in the unhappy armor of her weight, Rosane Mesquida as ElenaAnaïs believes she controls her own sexuality while she fantasizes about being an object of desire. Meanwhile, Anaïs experiences sex vicariously through Elena, with whom she shares a room on their summer vacation.

Anaïs and Elena's relationship is complex, full of the petty rivalries and resentments that exist between siblings. They deeply love each other, though, as Breillat shows in one particularly sweet scene. Anaïs is worried for Elena, but verbalizes few of her concerns because she knows that Elena will do what she wants anyway. Rather, more accurately, Elena does what twenty-year-old Italian law student Fernando (Libero De Rienzo) wants. Naïve Elena is easily controlled unscrupulous Fernando, who has Elena in every way imaginable. In his manipulative masterstroke, he observes in a sympathetic, caring tone that, though Elena looks like a woman, she is really just a girl. He's right, of course, but the observation is the coup-de-grace to Elena's virginity.

The father (Romain Goupil) would be appalled, but he is absent. A workaholic, he doesn't know what to do with himself on holiday and surrounded by females--heaven forbid he should actually connect emotionally with his family. He abandons his wife and daughters to return to Paris, failing to fulfill his manly role in this world created by men--that of protector and guide. Without him, the mother (Arsinée Khanjian) is somewhat lost and fails to see clearly what's going on until it's too late.

Much has been written about the unorthodox ending, and some have gone so far as to declare Fat Girl the worst film of the year. Like Fat Girl, Romance inspired similarly polarized opinion, mostly along gender lines, with the negative reactions coming mostly from men. Nonetheless, to say that Fat Girl's conclusion is a shocker (as most have called it) is a slight exaggeration. The ending is preceded by copious foreshadowing and about fifteen minutes of painful buildup of suspense. Some are saying, perhaps justly, that from a narrative standpoint, the ending is not organic to the story. In response, one should note that the ending is thematically consistent and that, in keeping with the stark realism of the rest of the movie, it mirrors the unpredictability of life and the experiences of, unfortunately, far too many women.

Advisory: Although it is not as graphic, Fat Girl is similar to Romance, in that it is sexually explicit in the extreme, containing brief images not usually seen outside of adult films. Unlike Romance, however, the sex in Fat Girl is almost certainly simulated.

Review © January 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Cowboy Films. All Rights Reserved

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