Catherine Breillat clearly prides herself on her reputation as a director who explores sexuality in a variety of frank, explicit and often shocking ways. 2001’s Fat Girl is without a doubt one of her most provocative films. Whether it’s any good is a matter of debate. While Fat Girl, like most of Breillat’s other films does have merit, one gets the sense that her desire to be controversial outweighs her drive to be a fully developed filmmaker.
Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) is the overweight 12-year-old sister of Elena (Roxane Mesquida), a sultry, 15-year-old looking for fun on vacation in their French neighborhood. Elena is forced to take Anaïs everywhere she goes, which only allows her to abuse her younger sister at every turn. Anaïs rarely speaks. When she does, it’s to herself or her sister. Despite her youth, Anaïs is already pessimistic about love, while Elena still entertains idyllic romantic fantasies.
As Anaïs eats ice cream, it takes her several minutes to notice her sister, is making out with a twenty-something Italian law student named Fernando (Libero de Rienzo). Disinterested, Anaïs seems to understand that her sister represents just another conquest for the older boy. Elena, despite Anaïs’ warnings to the contrary, convinces herself that this is the start of something meaningful. This is not Fernando’s first time around the block, so he plays right into Elena’s romantic notions. He says he’ll visit her in Paris, and they’ll be married. The older viewers among us will recognize all of this to be the hooey it is. When Elena tells him she’s not quite ready to lose her virginity, Fernando suggests anal sex as an alternative. “All the girls do it, so they can honestly say they’ve never had sex,” he claims, acting surprised when Elena confesses that she’s unaware of this.
Breillat is effective at a couple of things here. She examines how a young girl’s need for love can sometimes cloud all sense of better judgment. While Anaïs is the smarter of the two, one gets the sense that Elena knows that Fernando is putting one over on her, but her desire to experience sex is greater than her need for love.
Breillat offers a wonderful examination of the often complex relationship between siblings. Elena offers kind words of encouragement to her sister in private, yet insists on making fun of her weight in front of others. Breillat clearly has a keen awareness of sibling dynamics. Despite the films notoriety for its graphic sexuality, it’s the well written relationship between the sisters that deserves praise.
The film’s controversial ending (which I won’t give away here), has been the subject of much debate. While I see the point Breillat is trying to make, but the overriding feeling is that she was trying to create as much controversy as possible. No matter how many times I turn it over in my head, the ending didn’t have to go as far as it did. I guess you have to give Catherine Breillat credit for being fearless.
Both masterful and misguided, Fat Girl is a difficult film to watch. It’s stronger elements—burgeoning sexuality, sibling relationships—are difficult to simply dismiss, but the overt sexuality and over-the-top ending could ruin the entire movie for some viewers.
Fat Girl arrives on Blu-ray presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Image detail is quite strong, and colors are vibrant with warm flesh tones and a richness in the blacks in darker sequences.
The audio is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The lossless audio is sharp as you would expect. Surround effects don’t dazzle, but ambient sound is very redolent in this 5.1 mix and the lossless treatment sounds particularly rich and textured. Optional English subtitles support the French audio.
We get a somewhat light slate of special features:
- The Making of Fat Girl (1080i/60, 6 min) — Compiled from behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, the short piece quickly covers the production, the director and the challenges of shooting risqué scenes.
- Interviews (1080i/60) — Two conversations with the director are collected here. The first shows Breillat talking extensively about the film’s themes, working with the cast and her creative process (12 min). The second was recorded after the 2001 Berlin Film Festival, where Breillat discusses the two sisters, the story’s themes and comments on the movie’s alternate ending in a gynecologist’s office (10 min).
- Trailers (1080i/60) — Two theatrical previews, one from the U.S. one from France.