Rather than show an even-handed evaluation of the rigors of hormonal change, Breillat (previously responsible for the unwatchable Romance) wants to indulge in her hour of hate. Life is pain, highness. Get used to it. She'd find keen bedfellows in Neil LaBute and Todd Solondz, other sultans of misanthropy who lack the balls to be earnest or honest. For children, dealing with trauma and pain is complicated. To bury that in sarcasm and academic theory feels cheap. These would-be auteurs (more like hauteurs) haven't earned the right to display suffering because they don't layer it in emotional truth (as Mike Leigh does throughout Naked and David Lynch in several key scenes of Blue Velvet). Of course, there I go again comparing her to all these (better) male directors. I don't care. Gender be damned, she's borderline inept.
Braced for a knee-jerk reaction from the art house crowd (mortified shock or compulsory applause will suffice), writer-director Catherine Breillat may well accomplish her mission to get a rise out of people. Don't be fooled. This grotesque oversimplification of awkward forays into passion may be quickly forgotten, remembered only as cold, boring, philosophically arid, and incompetently photographed. The hyperviolent climactic sequence proves so extraordinarily misguided that I honestly wondered whether Breillat had thrown in an impromptu dream sequence.
Twelve years old, a bundle of dough with a sour pout, the superb Anaïs Reboux plays the titular fat girl with a thousand yard stare and a frumpy insouciance. (Her character is also named Anaïs.) Sitting at the table morosely slurping down a banana split, her presence is grounded and heartbreaking. It's a pity Breillat never finds anything for her to do other than get defensive against her evil storybook sister, 15-year old Elena (Roxane Mesquida), for bringing a transitory boyfriend home to their shared room. In this summer cottage, Anaïs has no escape from her position as stoic bedside observer to Elena's depressing confusion of cheap sex with romance. The boy in question, a smug Italian college kid named Fernando (Libero De Rienzo) is a real piece of work, claiming that the experience is a declaration of love while begging for a blowjob.
Anaïs doesn't receive any warmth from her largely absent parents, who join Elena in making fun of her hefty girth. She finds pleasure in wandering the beach alone, singing songs to herself, and swimming in the pool kissing the metal railing and pretending that it's her paramour. Reboux commands the screen, but there's only so much a child actress can do recounting pretentious monologues to herself. If one is inspired to rescue this young performer and place her in a better movie, at least she fares better than the other young talent asked to perform in intense love scenes that might feel justified if they weren't so dramatically misguided.
This 83-minute vignette is something of a horror show, but Breillat saves her nastiest poison for the very end. On the long ride home punctuated by an uncomfortable silence between family members, gigantic trucks swerve by as the hour grows late. Will mommy fall asleep at the wheel? Perhaps. Or maybe there's something deadlier around the corner, lying in wait to pounce upon the unsuspecting Fat Girl. What's more, she might even like it. With the intent of being unfair and unpredictable, placing her heroine in the most diabolical of corners in order to face up to impending adulthood, Breillat's extreme flourish of sadistic tawdriness reveals her as a master purveyor of contempt. Fat Girl is a bitter pill indeed.
Editor's Note: Jeremiah thinks I'm insane for putting Fat Girl on my top 10 of 2001, but I think it's Breillat's best work that perfectly captures the horrors of adolescence, and it's a pinnacle she's yet to reach since. Criterion agrees, putting the film out on DVD with the full treatment: Two interviews with Breillat (with a peek at an alternate ending), behind-the-scenes footage, and a DTS soundtrack. I recommend it, but Kipp makes some strong points. Be warned, either way. -CN
Aka À ma soeur!
Run time: 86 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 7th March 2001
Distributed by: Cowboy Booking International
Production compaines: ARTE France Cinéma, CB Films, Flach Films, Immagine & Cinema, Urania Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Fresh: 60 Rotten: 23
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Catherine Breillat
Producer: Jean-François Lepetit
Screenwriter: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Anaïs Reboux as Anaïs Pingot, Roxane Mesquida as Elena Pingot, Libero De Rienzo as Fernando, Arsinée Khanjian as Mère, Romain Goupil as Père, Laura Betti as La mère de Fernando, Albert Goldberg as Killer
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