A ma soeur!

(Fat Girl, France/Italy - 2001)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Anais Reboux, Roxanne Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo, Arsinee Khanjian, Romain Goupil, Laura Betti
Genre: Drama
Director: Catherine Breillat
Screenplay: Catherine Breillat
Cinematography: Yorgos Arvanitis
Composer: Catherine Breillat, Tavernanova, Laura Betti
Runtime: 86 minutes

Catherine Breillat’s stronger films (A Real Young Girl, 36 Fillette) are variations on the sexual awakening of pubescent girls. They experiment with their newly functioning parts, but actually having sex is something of a tragedy. Of course, their curiosity will probably get the best of them. The difference between Fat Girl and the other two is, rather than make the newfound interest a schizophrenic inner battle, Breillat splits her heroine into two characters pursuing the sibling bond and rivalry through their budding fascination with boys.

15-year-old Elina (Roxanne Mesquida) and 12-year-old Anais (Anais Reboux) feel they are old enough to be loved. Their bodies tell them this, but classic beauty Elina has all the looks. The world always looks bright when everyone takes an interest in you, and since Elina is a naive romantic who hasn’t figured out she’s only lusted after it’s easy for her to be optimistic about her present and future. Due to Anais being more obviously a girl, and an extremely overweight one at that, the same boys ignore her to the point they barely remember she’s right there beside her sister. Elina is also jailbait, but plenty of boys think she’s worth the risk.

Comparison dooms Anais to a slow painful death. Elina is also her best friend, but even though Anais is superior in many important ways, she’s only seen as something of her sisters equal when they are alone, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to now that the boys are fawning over Elina. Their clueless parents (Arsinee Khanjian & Romain Goupil) force the sisters to stick together so Elina can take care of Anais, making Anais the third wheel in Elina’s romantic excursions. Anais’ rejection, loneliness, and isolation actually mature her, as they force her to observe her sister from afar (technically only a few feet). She sees Elina’s mistakes, that men wind up running from her after a few days because she tries to own them for life. Because she loves her sister, Anais tries to help her by pointing these things out, but mostly this feeds their love-hate relationship and leads to an exchange of barbs. The sisters are simultaneously friends and enemies, joined at the hip they are equally confidant and intruder in this comedy of suffering.

The characterization of the sisters is superb. The basis of Anais having the interior beauty and Elina having the exterior beauty is nothing new, but rarely has it been done with so much depth, and probably never when the context was so strictly rather than theoretically sexual. Unfortunately, Breillat’s male characters never fare that well. They tend to be variations of the Latin Lover, somewhat stereotypical seducers. Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), the college student who aims to have his way with Elina, is only interesting for his honesty or lack thereof. His version of love is exactly the opposite of Elina’s; it isn’t lasting. Fernando just wants sex, probably only a night of it. He’s looking for impermanence, and misrepresents his feelings and allows Elina to misinterpret their meaning since it’s to his advantage. Elina wants to sleep with Fernando, so what she doesn’t believe she pretends or tries to convince herself to because she wants his words to be true. She wants what he wants, but also expects or at least wants it to last.

Anais is horrified as she looks on from her bed during the lengthy single take deflowering scene because she has no illusions. She doesn’t value virginity like Elina does. In fact, she knows she’ll lose her virginity to a virtual stranger with no love on either part, and can’t wait for that creep to show up to make it happen. But she sees that Elina is not getting what she wants, she’s getting tricked and she’ll be hurt in a few days when she discovers what Anais already knows. Breillat’s subsequent Sex is Comedy, a kind of farcical making of Fat Girl, lacks the presence of the third person in the room during this scene, putting the audience in the even more uncomfortable position of voyeur to “intimacy”. You can argue over the reasons behind the character’s emotions, that Anais is jealous because Elina is losing her virginity and she’s not. But she cries during the scene because something has been stolen from her sister. It’s not her virginity, at least not to Anais, but her idealism. Anais’ description of loveless sex will soon prove to be true.

Reboux gives an excellent performance. It’s a shame she hasn’t been pursuing acting, though she probably wouldn’t get any worthy roles since heaven forbid we ever see anyone that looks like a real person. While Mesquida holds the attention of the men in the film, it’s Reboux that holds the viewer’s attention because there’s a depth to her being. She conveys uncommon maturity and a refreshing blend of hope and cynicism.

The character Anais is very imaginative, and uses it as a defense mechanism. In absence of any real relationships, she sings to herself and has a romance with her imaginary boyfriend even if it means using the pool ladder. She eats as a defense mechanism too, but that’s more of a catch-22 as it allows her to deny herself but leads others to deny her as well. Anais’ fantasies and thoughts on the future lead to the fantastic climax, one that’s so absurd it feels like it could only be another dream even though Breillat clearly intends it to be taken as fact. It’s one thing to have a character that turns negatives into positives and finds a way everything can help her, but Breillat takes that to a dubious extreme. Many of Anais’ thoughts, fantasies, and desires lead here, but you really can’t take the film too seriously with this conclusion. Breillat has a certain masochism where her characters get the cruelty they desire. She’s not going for realism, she’s more proposing an alternate reality to punctuate her startling point. I think it tends to be counterproductive..



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