Fat Girl (2001)

Review #1,133

Director:  Catherine Breillat
Cast:  Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo
Plot:  Elena is 15, beautiful and flirtatious.  Her less confident sister, Anais, is 12, and constantly eats. On holiday, Elena meets a young Italian student who is determined to seduce her.  Anais is forced to watch in silence, conspiring with the lovers, but harbouring jealousy and similar desires. 

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Manfred Salzgeber Award (Berlin).  Won France Culture Award (Cannes).
Runtime:  86min
Rating:  R21 for explicit nudity, strong sexuality and disturbing scenes.

It’s hard to find legitimate copies of Catherine Breillat films here in Singapore.  They are either banned or have received the highest rating by the censorship board that restrict its circulation.  A Criterion Blu-ray copy of Fat Girl came to me by virtue of a very good friend.  I’m not particularly impressed by the film, but happy to finally see a Breillat picture. 

Fat Girl comes after what is probably Breillat’s most explicit and controversial film – Romance (1999), a film that will never see the light of day here.  Starring Anais Reboux in her first and only time acting for the big screen, in the title role no less, Fat Girl is a frank and unflinching portrayal of sexual curiosity through the eyes of female adolescents. 

Reboux plays the chubby but street-smart Anais, opposite her beautiful but naïve screen sister Elena (Roxanne Mesquida).  Both siblings are on a holiday with their parents.  The sisters have a love-hate relationship – there’s jealousy, sympathy and lots of talk about guys and sex. 

One day, a young Italian student attempts to seduce Elena, at one point even getting into bed with her.  It is a quiet night.  Her parents are already dead asleep.  But Anais, in the same room with Elena, is not.  She pretends to sleep while her sister is being coerced into sex. 

This occurs in what seems like one long take, almost twenty minutes in duration.  Breillat’s camera shows us the long, meandering I-want-you-want-not conversations between Elena and the guy.  But when the big moment comes, Breillat doesn’t afford us the money shot.  Instead, we see Anais' face as she eavesdrops on the lovemaking.

Fat Girl may be about sex, but it is also about sexual attitudes.  Elena desires and fears sex, putting emotion and psychology into the mix.  Her sister sees losing her virginity as something best to quickly get out of the way, a bothersome obstacle to overcome in pursuit of sex – a foreshadowing of what is to come at the climax. 

While the third act feels like an exercise in tension building, where huge, phallic trucks speed past the car the mother and daughters are in, nothing will prepare you for the final five minutes.  I would like to think that it is as powerful, controversial, shocking and defiant as anything Breillat has ever done.

Verdict:  Frank and unflinching portrayal of sexual curiosity through themes of sibling rivalry and female adolescence by the provocateur Catherine Breillat. 

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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