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FAT GIRL (À MA SOEUR!)(director/writer/music: Catherine Breillat; cinematographer: Yorgos Arvanitis; editor: Pascale Chavance; music: Laura Betti, Tavernanova; cast: Anaïs Reboux (Anaïs), Roxane Mesquida (Elena), Libero de Rienzo (Fernando), Arsinée Khanjian (Mother), Romain Goupil (Father), Laura Betti (Fernando’s Mother); Runtime: 83; Cowboy Pictures; 2001-France)
“Breillat is a skilled director, who has created a troubling film that examines the simple pleasures of the human condition for young people and puts a complex spin on it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Catherine Breillat (“Romance”) presents an in-your-face tale about two sisters from a bourgeois family facing their growing up pangs and their first encounters with sex. The 12-year-old younger sister Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) is fat, a loner, a big eater, broods a lot about her sad life, and is dominated by her older sister. Elena (Roxane Mesquida) is a slim and attractive 15-year-old who knows she attracts boys and is confident, as she is very boy conscious and very much aware that she’s still a virgin but plans to find love before yielding. She is already angling to find a marriage partner. Anaïs claims she would rather her first sexual encounter be with someone she didn’t care for. In other words, the sisters are polar opposites. Breillat will make their relationship and adventure in a seaside resort a coming to terms with their femininity issue, as well as a call to arms in the war between the sexes. Her look at sex is more matter of fact and clinical than erotic. The company director father (Goupil) is distant from the family and is a workaholic, while his attractive wife (Khanjian) is weary of the girls and their secrets and remains aloof while at other times scolds them when she disapproves of their behavior. They are trying to enjoy a rare holiday with the whole family together, but happiness is not in the cards for the materialistic family. The story features graphic sex and a metaphorical shock ending which may not please everyone, but it does clearly explain the point Breillat is trying to make about the power of sex. This provocative look at childhood yearnings and their sex drive, offers a fascinating look at how such youngsters think about sex. The film also offers a brilliant performance by Anaïs Reboux, who plays a character that has similar problems to the one had by the feature player, Heather Matarazzo, in Todd Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

When the girls sneak out of their gated residence, they hit an outdoor coffee shop and get picked up by a suave older college law student from Italy named Fernando (de Rienzo). He and Elena have a sexual attraction for each other and Fernando is invited by her to climb through the balcony window to enter the room the sisters share. An all-night love scene takes place where the smooth talking law student tries to be the first to get into her by bombarding her with so much false flattery, as they lay naked in her bed while Anaïs follows her sister’s orders by pretending to go to sleep. But Anaïs can’t resist staying awake and is filled with jealousy and seethes with disappointment why she can’t attract boys. Anaïs contemptuously listens to the lovers as they both profess to love each other (with Elena the only one meaning it). Anaïs catches on that he’s a phony, but sis will not accept that even though she suspects that is so. Though Elena gets pleasure from constantly needling sis about her weight, the sisters nevertheless have frank discussions and show some concern for each other in their love-hate relationship.

Anaïs’s lovemaking is accomplished in a more comical way as she swims and pretends objects in the pool are the two lovers she must choose from, as she kisses the railing and then the pool’s ladder pretending each is one of her imaginary lovers.

The slick Fernando borrows his mom’s expensive opal ring and presents it to Elena as an engagement ring, which opens up the doors he wants. But trouble comes when his crass mom (Betti) barges into Elena’s house and confronts her mother with the story of the ring, which she wants back. She says the ring is used to get girls in bed. Since the father already fled to his office, the mother packs the girls in the car and heads home cutting the vacation short on an unhappy note. Elena is threatened with a physical exam to see if she’s still a virgin and Anaïs is made to feel so uncomfortable she vomits by the side of the road. The road home is congested with traffic, as the impatient mother weaves from lane to lane in a rush to get back to their suburban Parisian home. Some kind of accident seems likely, but instead the ending is more sensational and devastating. Yet the director’s point is that what happened before, was even more upsetting and troubling psychologically to Anaïs.

Breillat is a skilled director, who has created a troubling film that examines the simple pleasures of the human condition for young people and puts a complex spin on it. It is rare to get this kind of depth and character-driven story in a troubled teen flick, but here you get that plus an even-handed laying out of the blame between the sexes. Though Fernando is merely a user of women and Elena is not that innocent — her sexual curiosity made his conquest possible — while Anaïs, on the other hand, is more complex than the other two. She gains our sympathy but she’s not very likable, yet she is the more perceptive sister and the one the film revolves around and is used to see how society helped create such traumatic inner problems by their hypocrisy and false sex values.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”