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The Criterion Collection presents
Fat Girl (À ma soeur!) (2001)

"It's a proof of love."
- Fernando (Libero De Rienzo)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: October 18, 2004

Stars: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo, Arsinée Khanjian,
Other Stars: Romain Goupil, Laura Betti, Albert Goldberg, Odette Barrière, Ann Matthijsse, Pierre Renverseau, Jean-Marc Boulanger, Frederick Bodin, Michel Guillemin, Josette Cathalan, Claude Sese, Marc Samuel
Director: Catherine Breillat

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (statutory rape, nudity, graphic sexuality, violence)
Run Time: 01h:26m:25s
Release Date: October 19, 2004
UPC: 037429197721
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+A-A C+

DVD Review

Fernando: I only sleep with them because I'm a guy. That's all.
Elena: So if you slept with me, I'd be like all the other girls?

French filmaker, Catherine Breillat, has long had a reputation for being controversial, going back to her earliest works. Her subject matter often deals frankly with sexuality, and Fat Girl is no less provocative—being banned in several countries upon its release—but controversy alone does not make a great film.

The story examines the relationship between two sisters, the frumpy thirteen-year-old, Anaïs (Reboux), and her picture-perfect sibling, Elena (Mesquida), two years her senior. They share a love/hate relationship, Elena always chiding Anaïs about her weight and lack of appeal to guys, while Anaïs is critical of her sister's promiscuous behavior, even if she is still a virgin. The two share opposing views on their burgeoning sexuality, Elena with a romanticized notion of who should deflower her, with Anaïs simply wanting to get it over with, preferring someone she cares nothing about. While on a family vacation, the pair meet an Italian law student who Elena immediately latches onto despite him being much older. Fernando is a typical cad, wooing Elena with promises of love with the sole intention of bedding her, a point she blindly overlooks.

The first half of the film provides an explicit, yet not unrealistic exposition of the pressures on adolescent women. Despite its rather lengthy (25-minute) initial sexual encounter, in which Fernando craftily breaks down Elena's reluctance to allow him to penetrate her, the sequence has a truth to it, albeit painful to watch. That she finally allows him to sodomize her as "a proof of love" (and thus "not counting" towards losing her virginity) drives home her naïve perception of what constitutes love, which is furthered as she submits to Fernando's pleas for felatio after the fact. Anaïs, meanwhile, witnesses the entire proceeding from her bed opposite, sharing her sister's shame and emotional confusion.

However, the tail end of the film swerves off into a surrealistic netherworld that undoes all the potential good the film could have mustered. Here, we are subjected to what appears to be the protracted setup for a tragic ending, as the two girls and their mother drive down the oppressive highways on their journey home. The mood is sombre after Elena's exploits are revealed to her parents, and with their father previously abandoning them, mother is increasingly erratic in her driving, with the massive bulk of semi trailers looming over them. But the brutal coup d'etat is yet another bolt out of the blue, which, regardless of whether it is only the visualisation of Anaïs' subconscious desires or supposed to represent events occuring in reality, seems to exist more for its shock value than anything else.

Where the film gets into controversial areas is in its focus on the blatent depiction of underage sex, complete with full nudity and erections, and although Mesquida was twenty at the time of filming, she has a very young appearance. To her credit, Breillat does cut to Anaïs' reaction during her sister's actual sex act, but the effect is compounded by the premise that the boy/man Elena is having sex with admittedly knows he could be arrested for what he is doing. Perhaps even more disturbing are the ramifications of the 13-year-old's welcoming attitude towards being raped by an adult, as well as her on screen nudity. It is little wonder that some censors (including the Ontario Film Revue Board) had a hard time letting this one go.

The performances by Anaïs Reboux and Roxane Mesquida are well executed, natural, and display a believably complex sibling relationship. Mesquida aptly conveys her emotional turmoil during her sex scenes, as she tries to balance her romantic notions with the reality of her situation, while Redoux brilliantly portrays the over-indulgent wallflower, ill at ease with her sister's behavior. Libero De Rienzo gets equal screen time as the manipulative Fernando, whose shifting approach to get his way is both repugnant yet realistic. Arsinée Khanjian and filmmaker Romain Goupil take near-cameos as the parents, with Khanjian only really becoming a central figure in the final act.

As a coming-of-age story, the film develops, albeit uncomfortably, in a sympathetic manner. We see the experience of a young girl being manipulated into sexual conduct by a skillful seducer, her reluctance obvious, the discomfort of the violations she endures removing any blatent eroticism. Hers is a hard lesson that many if not most women will face, and here is where the audience can identify with her. But as the film progresses, it loses touch with the audience, turning what could have been a unique perspective on the loss of adolescent innocence into a pseudo-horror flick. It is a shame that the ending feels like a complete cop out, as though the author ran out of ideas that would have put the preceding story into a real life context, demeaning all that came before it.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This is a typical Criterion presentation, with near perfect image quality. Colors are well represented, black levels are solid. Contrast is spot on, with good delineation between highlights and shadow. Detail level is very good, with no transfer induced anomalies. The source is very clean, with only very slight traces of debris.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Frenchno
DTSFrenchno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 French tracks. The soundstage has a nice, natural ambience to it, with subtle use of the surrounds. Dialogue is clear, with no over emphasis of sibilants. No technical deficiencies were noted.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Two essays on the film
Extras Review: Criterion provides a 5m:39s "making-of," which intercuts the director's views on the subject matter with behind-the-scenes footage.

Two interviews with director Catherine Breillat are also included. In the first (9m:58s), Breillat discusses her actors, methodology, philosophies and the film's alternate ending. The second (11m:59s), shot for German television after the film's premier at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival, expands on Breillat's motivations behind the film, and her views on its appeal.

The original French and U.S. trailers round out the on disc extras.

The insert features an essay on Breillat's work by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, originally published in Sight & Sound along with a reprint of an interview with Breillat from a 2001 edition of French magazine, Positif, in which she discusses the characters and how they relate to the real world, and her choices in the storytelling. Breillat also provides insight into the title choice in a brief essay.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

The female coming-of-age story is one that is very poorly represented in cinema, and I had high hopes for Fat Girl. Criterion presents Catherine Breillat's frank portrait of two sisters' induction into adulthood in this highly controversial film, but despite a strong but disturbing first half and excellent performances from the cast, Fat Girl ultimately disappoints with its overly drawn out and surrealistic finale.

 


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