fat girl (2001)


director: catherine breillat

anais reboux, roxane mesquida, arsinee khanjian

A year and a half after it was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, inviting a ban from the Ontario Film Review Board, Catherine Breillatís Fat Girl is finally being released. In the end, the constitutional challenge threatened by the filmís distributors, which was what finally forced the Film Board to back down, might be the most notable thing about Fat Girl.

The film isnít without its virtues, if that isnít an inappropriate choice of words. Boiled down, itís a coming of age story, set in an upscale French summer resort, where two sisters, the pretty Elena and her overweight, sullen little sister Anais, are forced to suffer each otherís company in a shared room.

Elena is intent on romance, and hooks up with Fernando (Libero de Rienzo), an older Italian student, who slips into their room at night to begin the long, hard work of seduction. Fernando is an old pro, who recognizes that Elena still cherishes romantic notions that her little sister has already discarded. He tells Elena what she wants to hear, bargaining with her illusions, and gets what he came for in the course of a long, painful, brilliantly acted scene, forcing himself on the girl while her little sister weeps silently in the other bed.

Anais is an unlovable child, bitter with the early knowledge that, for her, love will always be unsatisfying. No doubt she can thank her impatient, workaholic father and coquettishly indifferent mother (marvelously played by Arsinee Khanjian) for this premature wisdom. Her only intimate relationship is with the sister whose mere existence is the root of Anaisí misery, but Breillat lets the girls explore their connection in a couple of key scenes that hint at the grudging but fond dťtente they might arrive at once they get older.

Which is where Breillatís film blindsides us, in a final, terrible scene that negates everything about that future. For those who want to leave the theatre to ponder their own unsettled memories of family and teen sexuality, it would be advised that they grab their coats and head for the exit while the girlsí enraged mother is still making a white-knuckled retreat to Paris after cutting their vacation short, and to stop reading here.

The scene that follows is so sudden and so brutal that itís almost possible to sympathize with the Film Review Board. Itís a scene of such arbitrary, punishing violence that one is forced to try and ponder the just what the director, assuming Godlike wrath at her characters, considers worthy of such awful punishment.