Film review by Ed Nguyen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Ana´s Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero de Rienzo, ArsinÚe Khanjian
Director: Catherine Breillat
Audio: French DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Making-Of featurette, interviews, trailers, essays
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: May 3, 2011
others don't count. I only sleep
with them because I'm a guy. That's
if you slept with me, I'd be like all the other girls?"
I'd respect you."
Breillat is one of the most controversial directors in France today.
Her daring, openly sexual style of direction has provoked some widely
divergent reactions, even within the relatively open-minded European film
community. One of her early films, 36
Filette (1988), concerned the sexual maturity of a fourteen year old girl.
Another film, Romance (1999), gained notoriety for its shockingly explicit nature.
Despite the generally mature content of her work, Breillat's use of
sexuality, rather than being simply gratuitous, ultimately serves to convey a
greater, universal theme of female empowerment and liberation in her films.
└ ma soeur! (Fat Girl, 2001) also explores the subject of sexual curiosity,
albeit from an adolescent perspective. Rather
than being a titillating piece, this film exposes the uncomfortable awkwardness
and occasional poignancy of budding sexuality.
It does not attempt to glamorize the experience.
Frequently stark but generally honest, Fat
Girl lays bare the raw and often painful tribulations that accompany a
girl's inevitable sexual maturation from child to young adult.
the heart of Fat Girl is a story of
two teenaged sisters - plain and obese Ana´s (Ana´s Reboux) and her beautiful
sibling ElÚna (Roxane Mesquida). Along
with their family, the sisters are on vacation at a seaside locale.
Ana´s is thirteen years old and looks up to her more attractive fifteen
year old sister, although, in some ways, Ana´s is more mature and pragmatic
than her elder sibling. ElÚna has reached a stage in adolescence where her sexual
curiosity and desire to experience an idealized first romance blinds her to the
insincere manipulations used by boys for their own purposes.
Ana´s expresses a different view on the matter - "Personally, I
want my first time to be with a boy I don't love."
afternoon, ElÚna meets Fernando (Libero de Rienzo), an Italian law student.
He seduces the young, impressionable teenager with romantic promises and
overtures. In his quick courtship
of ElÚna, Ana´s is left unattended and alone.
When Fernando and ElÚna go for a joyride in his convertible, Ana´s must
wait along the sidewalk until they return.
In one bittersweet scene, Ana´s swims alone in a pool, practicing kisses
with imaginary suitors while her sister receives undivided male attention.
During Fernando and ElÚna's first sexual encounter, in a bedroom shared
between ElÚna with her younger sister, Ana´s' presence is essentially ignored.
"Go to sleep. You hear
nothing, see nothing, and know nothing," ElÚna warns her sister
is divorced from the social circumstances surrounding ElÚna's life, and one
senses Ana´s' loneliness and alienation as a result. Ana´s' obesity and young age also create a further barrier
around her, isolating her such that she is more of a passive observer than a
participant. As such, Ana´s
becomes more cognizant of Fernando's insincerity than does her sister, who
allows herself to be swayed by his empty promises of love. In a poignant scene, Ana´s weeps silently in the darkness of
her bedroom while ElÚna and Fernando consummate their relationship.
Whether Ana´s cries from quiet jealousy, or more deeply for ElÚna's
lost virtue to someone who doesn't love her, is left open to interpretation.
parents offer little moral support. Seeing
their daughter Ana´s in a depressed mood one morning, the father simply bemoans
her ungratefulness for all the hard work he has put in for this family vacation,
while the mother only observes, "It's adolescence.
She'll get over it." In
essence, as is often the case in reality, the girls must ultimately learn the
difficult lessons of life for themselves and cannot rely indefinitely upon their
parents for guidance.
Girl is, in
Breillat's own words, a story about "a soul with two bodies."
ElÚna can be considered the idealized image of youth and beauty, while
Ana´s represents the more earthen reality.
ElÚna and Ana´s may bicker as siblings will do, but there is still real
devotion and love in their relationship. The
true heart of the film lies in the bond between the two sisters.
The best scenes in Fat Girl, in
fact, are the quiet scenes between the two sisters as they share laughter and
their private thoughts. Seeing a
tearful Ana´s, ElÚna (and not the parents) is the one to comfort her sister.
When ElÚna starts to express uncertainty over Fernando's intentions, she
turns to Ana´s (and not their mother) for moral advice.
As sisters, they share their secrets and their pains; their familial bond
is strengthened, rather than weakened, by their different attitudes -
"That's why we're sisters. When
I hate you, I look at you, and then I can't.
It's like hating part of myself."
men in Breillat's films are generally depicted in a negative light.
This is the case with Fat Girl's Fernando. Although
he is truly not a bad person, Fernando still personifies many of the vices and
insincerities of young men accustomed to manipulating women for sexual
gratification. His presence gives Fat
Girl its slightly uneven, schizophrenic tone.
The first two-thirds of the film divides time between ElÚna's more
mature sexual encounters with Fernando and the innocence of the two sisters'
relationship together. The sibling
bond is perhaps the more interesting storyline but sadly isn't really explored
at adequate length.
the final third of the film evolves into a thriller. The girls and their mother drive home from the vacation, and
the progressively menacing elements of their trip foreshadow the film's twist of
an ending. I will not reveal the
conclusion here, although it is quite sudden and ultimately unsettling.
the film's final freeze-frame of Ana´s' face does have a reverberating impact.
It is Breillat's homage to Jean-Pierre LÚaud's iconic stare of defiance
and uncertainty at the conclusion of Franšois Truffaut's The
400 Blows. In her own stare,
Ana´s displays a similar defiance towards life's trials and tragedies.
Despite the film's disturbing conclusion, Ana´s demonstrates that
perhaps she will be a stronger person for all her experiences.
Roxane Mesquida was around twenty years of age at the time of filming,
We're used to cinematic classics from Criterion, so when
they get the chan ce
to deliver a modern film on Blu-ray, you expect nothing but the best. And
they don't disappoint. Criterion offers the same loving care to newer
movies as they do to aging treasures, and Fat Girl
ce to deliver a modern film on Blu-ray, you expect nothing but the best. And they don't disappoint. Criterion offers the same loving care to newer movies as they do to aging treasures, and Fat Girlreaps the benefits. Colors and contrasts are nicely done, with good clean images and crisp details throughout.
Fat Girl also has the modern benefit of a DTS HD soundtrack, which, while not overly demanding, still sounds quite nice. And again, it's always a pleasure to see Criterion get a chance to spread their wings a little bit and demonstrate what they can do with modern motion pictures. Dialogue, while in French, seems clean and clear enough, and while there aren't many demands on the rear channels or subwoofer, the overall balance is clean and strong.
is a brief featurette (5 min.) on the making of Fat
Girl in which Breillat briefly discusses her directorial style with her
actors. Production clips are shown of an alternate ending to the
Breillat appears in two additional interviews.
In the first interview (10 min.), Breillat talks about the three young
actors in the film and their respective characters as well as how she as a
director related to them and encouraged them to create natural performances.
Breillat also supports her belief in the importance of the editing
process to maintain or discover the true spirit of a film.
Best of all, this interview concludes with the alternate ending for the
film; Ana´s' final line is the same, but its impact is different due to the
sterile setting and tone of the scene (personally, I much prefer the film's
final version of the scene to the alternate ending).
second Breillat interview (12 min.) was recorded during the film's premiere at
the 2001 Berlin Film Festival. Breillat
discusses comedic elements in the film, the premise of the sisters as being one
soul in two bodies, and also the filming of one of the film's most difficult
are two further essays contained on the package insert included with this
release. One essay is a long
interview with Breillat from Positif,
August 2004. Breillat explains in
great depth the themes in Fat Girl,
the casting process for the roles of Ana´s and ElÚna, and finally the
relevance and personal symbolism for her of the film's title (both the French
and English titles). This article
reveals the film's conclusion, so I would recommend watching the film before
second essay, "Sisters, Sex, and Sitcom," originally appeared in Sight
and Sound, December 2001. Author
and film scholar Ginette Vincendeau discusses Fat
Girl's place in the recent French cinematic trend of films exploring frank
sexuality. Vincendeau also dissects
the film's suggestion, from a feminine viewpoint, that the male machismo and
false promises within many heterosexual relationships frequently lead to joyless
sex and occasional victimization.
there are two Fat Girl trailers on the
disc. An English trailer is
presented narration-free, while a French trailer provides a closer look at the
general plot. Both trailers give an
impression of the film as a superficially fast-paced comedy with sexual
innuendos, which is hardly an accurate description.
TRIVIA: ArsinÚe Khanjian, who
plays the girls' mother, is the real-life wife of celebrated Canadian director
Fat Girl is a controversial film that may disturb some viewers and may elicit strong opinions about its portrayal of teen sexuality. However, it contains solid performances from young actresses Ana´s Reboux and Roxane Mesquida and successfully conveys the insecurity of one's body image that often accompanies adolescence.