Fat Girl Catherine Breillat

Controversial French director Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl is a beautiful and disturbing look at the relationship between two young sisters, Anaïs and Elena. Elena, the older at 15, is beautiful but vacuous; while on vacation, she gets involved with a college-age boy and uses her sister to hide their burgeoning sexual relationship from their parents. Meanwhile, the younger Anaïs, age 12, ostensibly (but not necessarily) the fat girl of the film's title, has been toughened by the world's disapproving looks and takes a more cynical view of love. The film explores the relationship between the two with unflinching honesty; particularly the power dynamic between them is overwhelming and largely unseen by the world of adults, which sees them as equals, being both merely young girls. But within their own world both girls know that the power dynamic between them is not balanced — nor is it between themselves and the world of boys/men, of which they are curious, disgusted and frightened. For Elena the beautiful, her self-worth is tied up in the acknowledgement of her "superiority" in relation to her sister — but it needs constant acknowledgement, from boys, from adults, from society at large. Elena's life is defined by being "the beautiful one." Anaïs, meanwhile, takes a much more fascinating journey through the world — her sister's constant companion, not usually by choice, she has built an inner world that requires no affirmation because she's received so little. Boys/men and sexuality are certainly not worth giving anything of herself to; she would give up her virginity only to someone who didn't matter, she tells Elena. Meanwhile, for Elena outside approval means everything, so she is revealed to be the weaker and more vulnerable of the two. Breillat's film is distinctly French in its unflinching view of adolescent sexuality (explicitly on display), and that makes it both sociologically fascinating and unfamiliar to mainstream Western audiences. Fat Girl is a shocking film, but not in the ways that many social conservatives would claim. This Criterion issue also provides some fascinating insight into the process of Breillat's work with the actors, as she pushes them to challenges others might not; in interviews she also discusses and explores the film's alternate ending, which seeks to answer more questions than the theatrical cut, but is no less disturbing. Plus: behind the scenes footage, essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau. (Criterion/Morningstar)