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Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat) 2001

Catherine Breillat’s films take on sexuality with more candor than nearly any other director’s. She is unabashedly frank in her film’s presentation of sex as something that should not be judged. It is, rather, something that just exists. The judgments are up to the viewer. Her films make you examine a lot of your own sexual baggage. Fat Girl is no different in that sense, but it represents as large a leap in quality for the director as fellow French female director Claire Denis’ Beau Travail did for her. The film takes the point of view of the titular character, Anais, though it’s not clear until the film’s end how much that affects what we are seeing. We don’t get a directorial judgment on the events here. Breillat shows us this by including many shots of Anais as she is watching others. This is crucial to understand the film’s final third, in which it changes dramatically (but not entirely).

The film takes place during a family vacation in which Anais, a 12 year old girl, and Elena, her 15 year-old sister ignore their parents and talk about sex. We find that the girls are quite anxious about their state of virginity, and the most of the film focuses on this theme. When Elena meets Fernando, an slightly older Italian import, she quickly starts moving toward changing her sexual status. The sisters share an intense love/hate relationship, and the introduction of Fernando frustrates and excites them both. While Elena is feels obligated to have sex with the boy she quickly grows to “love” she is embarrassed by her virginity. Anais is mostly jealous that her older sister is getting the chance to have sex first. The parents during these scenes are almost a non-issue. They seem to be there mostly to criticize the girls.

When Elena’s deflowering eventually occurs (the film gradually works up to it, heaping indignity upon indignity), Anais, who shares a room with her, is forced to bear silent witness. Fernando’s seduction is desperate and successful. The result leaves Elena feeling more shameful than fulfilled, and Anais feeling both more convinced her first time won’t be under the false pretenses of love like Elena’s was and jealous that Elena was lucky enough to get through the ordeal instead of fostering further anxieties. The scene is presented with a voyeuristic feel, which is unsurprising since the lovers are being watched. There is a copious amount of nudity, but it feels far from pornographic. The acting in this scene is incredible. The look of indecision on Elena’s face as she contemplates letting Fernando enter her is heartbreaking. When she resigns herself and finally says, “I love you,” it’s even more so. 

Their romance continues, with Anais necessarily tagging along, since Elena cannot leave the summer home unescorted. She hates that she must bear witness to their affair, but does so out of a sibling obligation. When the affair is discovered, she bears the brunt of punishment as much as her sister. The film takes a divergent turn here, as the family heads for home. The girls’ mother seems to seethe with sexual jealousy and rage. It seems that the loss of her daughter’s virginity is a slap to her face. Her child’s sexuality in some way seems to incapacitate hers, and she is not pleased. There’s also the impression that her daughter’s admission into adulthood has somehow forced the mother to relinquish her perceived stranglehold over her. The car ride home grows increasingly nightmarish as they speed toward the film’s horrific final confrontation, for the first time explicitly suggesting that the world is a projection of Anais’ state of mind.

The film doesn’t really offer a concrete reason for its events, but it suggests that a lot of the girls’ anxieties are caused by society. They are shown in one scene watching an interview with a Breillat-like woman on television speaking about sexuality. They don’t seem to have much interaction with their parents, so the implication seems to be that society as a whole has educated them about sex. Perhaps, we are to see Anais’ anxieties as a problem of society. The film’s climax hurtles her toward another more explicit societal problem with absolutely shocking results. Somehow, Anais manages to predict her own fate and at the same time seal it. We are meant to be shocked by the film’s ending, but the suggestion that things have happened exactly as the Fat Girl wanted is even more provocative.


September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman