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Fat Girl

By Lee Gardner | Posted

Fat Girl is one of those movies that works better the less you know going into it. It is safe to note that the film is the latest effort from French writer/director Catherine Breillat, the woman behind such art-house scandals as the Lolita Lite 36 Fillette and 1999's sexually graphic meditation on female desire, Romance, so the canny filmgoer can rightly assume that provocation is on the menu. Read the rest at your own risk.

As the film opens, pudgy pubescent Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) and her slightly older sister, Elena (Roxane Mesquida), stroll through the resort where they are vacationing with their upper-middle-class family and discuss losing their virginity. As they will throughout the film, they disagree and compete. Baby-fat-swaddled tagalong Anaïs insists she doesn't care who takes her maidenhead; she wants to be "broken in" for her dream man. Willowy fashion-model manqué Elena maintains she'll hold out for true love, even though they both know she will have no shortage of eager suitors.

Enter Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), an Italian law student vacationing nearby with his family. While Anaïs literally looks on, Fernando zeroes in on Elena and, in one long, extraordinary scene in the girls' shared bedroom, plies his underage intended with every trick in the young-cad handbook. It is discomfiting to watch, but the scene rings so true that it's impossible to look away. Breillat is similarly unblinking throughout as not-as-grown-up-as-she-thinks-she-is Elena wrestles with Fernando and Anaïs wrestles with her own budding desires, her body image, and her fraught relationship with her sister.

It wouldn't do to reveal much more, but read no further if you want to avoid even a hint of a spoiler. Despite the film's unvarnished portrait of teenage realpolitik and uncanny performances from the three young leads, Breillat's overall thrust remains somewhat elusive, even as the girls and their distracted mother (Arsinée Khanjian) pack up for the long drive home. In the closing minutes the director suddenly and shockingly effects a seismic shift in the film's tone and direction, transforming everything that transpired beforehand. No doubt many filmgoers will find it disturbing; others will find themselves angry at what on one level amounts to a cheap trick (the classic satirical short Bambi vs. Godzilla springs to mind). But no other film released this year is likely to generate as much discussion afterward.

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