[À ma soeur!]
Catherine Breillat garnered international attention with her last
feature ROMANCE, a daring examination of one woman's exploration
of her sexuality. ROMANCE was equally excoriated as pornography
masquerading as art and championed as a fresh, exacting look at
the female psyche.
Throughout her career, Breillat has pushed boundaries and buttons.
Her clear-eyed, matter-of-fact approach may be off-putting to some, but
I suspect that she will find new audiences with her searing, beautifully
observed coming-of-age tale FAT GIRL [À MA SOEUR!], which was featured
at the 2001 New York Film Festival.
Breillat found her initial inspiration observing an ample young girl
in a pool in Italy who was swimming between sides, acting as if she
were moving between two lovers. Using that image as a jumping off
point, the writer-director crafted this moving story of two sisters on
vacation with their parents. Breillat, who happens to be the younger
of two sisters, perhaps drew on some autobiographical elements in
her depiction of the often contradictory manner in which families
operate. She neatly captures the tender moments as well as the
painful ones, showing how just a word or turn of phrase can inflict
wounds or serve as a balm.
The story centers on two sisters, Elena (Roxane Mesquida) who
is completely aware of the power of her beauty but harbors somewhat
romantic notions about love and sex, and Anaïs (the extraordinary Anaïs
Reboux), who while younger seems more mature in some ways. Early
in the film, the sisters discuss losing their virginity; Elena wants it
to be special, a momentous occasion, while Anaïs avers that the act
should be done with someone you don't know or like, almost as if it's
a penance or a trial to endure. The remainder of the film charts Elena's
seduction by an older Italian law student, the studly Fernando (Libero
de Rienzo). Anaïs immediately sees him for what he is, a hustler out
to add another notch on his bedpost. Elena, though, falls under his
spell. In one of the film's more disturbing scenes, Elena consents to
sex acts (that will technically preserve her virginity) while Anaïs
pretends to sleep in their shared bedroom. When he returns another
night to take her virginity, Fernando essentially talks his way into
what arguably is the rape of Elena, who while physically mature
doesn't have the emotional functionality to deal with the experience.
Anaïs, on the other hand, has the emotional maturity to empathize
with her sister; the camera focuses on her silently sobbing as her
sister and Fernando on the other side of the room.
When their mother (Arsinee Khanjian), an aging beauty
somewhat jealous of her daughter's blossoming sexuality, learns
what happens, she immediately packs the girls and sets off for
home. The rage of the three women in the car is manifested in part
by the large tractor trailers that surround them on the highway.
(Breillat creates more tension in these few short scenes on the road
than are in the entirety of JOY RIDE.) But that is only the beginning.
The film then takes a shocking and tragic turn that is an outward
projection of the hostility and anger bottled up in the car.
Buoyed by strong performances from the young leads and
Breillat's assured direction, FAT GIRL is a devastating film and a
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 86 mins
|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.