Come. Touch the tip of The Iceberg of Pain.
Genre: Drama (France)
Starring: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida (Rubber • Kaboom)
Directed By: Catherine Breillat (36 fillette • A Real Young Lady)
Overview: Anaïs, a portly 12-year-old and Elena, her beautiful 15-year-old sister, are on vacation with their parents. Elena gets involved with an Italian college boy who is quite obviously interested in taking her viriginity.
Feel free to click here to skip the spoiler bit at the beginning.
Skip this spoiler bit (which I don’t even consider as being a spoiler since I’ve chosen to eliminate that moronic final scene from my mind and thus improve the film a thousand-fold)
Catherine Breillat chose to end her film with a grand, dramatic violent act – a sudden, ludicrous, random, unexplained left-field madness literally bursts through our family’s parked-car windshield in the form of an axe-murderer, who quickly chops Elena in the skull and slowly turns to mom to strangle her. For as ridiculous, inappropriate and imbecilic as it is, this is a frightening and important moment that should not have been served up as an asinine mess. Breillat creates a nonsensical scene, ignoring physics and human reflex. The mother of the two children doesn’t even seem to awaken from the shattering windshield, much less struggle against an off-balance assailant who’s sprawled on the hood with his arms at a vulnerable, nigh-unstrangleable full length – adding further insult, he kills the unstruggling mother in a matter of seconds before continuing his assault. Because of the complete impossibility and awkwardness of the scene, I immediately knew that I was watching a dream sequence. When I realized it was not, I cursed Breillat for subjecting us to such a childish, un-rehearsed, unprofessional work. By finishing the film with such an idiotic conclusion, it ruined the entire story that had come before, utterly wasting my time. My girlfriend put the reason she hated that scene far more succinctly: “Because it's stupid. It is a senseless act of violence, but it's also stupid.”
"There you go, bread makes it all better."
Female director Catherine Breillat
– already a rare thing - is rather prolific with 13 features under her belt. Furthermore, she's an auteur, being the writer of all those features. I like seeing a woman punch a hole in the system, against the odds
, and carve out a world for herself. The 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book says of her "French writer/director Catherine Breillat is the brilliant madwoman of world cinema."
It goes on to say, about her 2001 film, Fat Girl
, "There are no obvious cinematic blueprints for this picture (save, perhaps, previous Breillat works)..."
If that's truly the case, what’s better praise and proof of someone etching out their own cinematic style than having only themselves to compare to? It would be great praise, that is, if that style were appreciated. When it is not, it sounds more like a tongue-in-cheek insult that has guaranteed I will never watch another Breillat
film again. It's been a long while since I've hated a film so completely, and that's mainly because Fat Girl
had such great promise.
Fat Girl opens with two sisters talking about sex, about boys, about losing their viriginity. The beautiful 15 year-old Elena (Roxane Mesquida) is a flirt and becomes immediately interested in Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), a much older Italian college boy. Her younger sister, Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux), is a fat 12-year-old who hides her insecurities behind food. Immediately Elena and Fernando begin a relationship, with Anaïs ever made to be the third-wheel tagalong. Quickly, the relationship turns to Fernando’s desire for sex, and making things awkward for everyone: Fernando takes Elena’s virginity in the room she shares with Anaïs’, thus forcing the fat sister to be mute witness to Elena’s deflowering. From here the film mostly studies the characters of the sisters, following their tribulations and friendship, and to a lesser extent in Fernando and the girls’ parents.
Fat Girl is often pretty, frequently filled with perfectly lit shots of the family’s wealthy/rustic country home and its surroundings. The script is often perfectly polished, such as the first scene that immediately sets the undercurrent of the relationship and desires of our two sisters. Having previously known nothing of the film, that first scene quickly settled me into a happy realm of expectation for a mature, honest coming-of-age story. Moments in Fat Girl jump out as genius: the argument the sisters have on the first night Fernando sleeps over; a scene where Anaïs swims, daydreaming about being with two men while her sister lives the reality of falling in love with a man in her arms; the way their mother’s (Arsinée Khanjian) stress while driving is perfectly conveyed. In fact most scenes with the chubby Anaïs Reboux show off a proficient acting talent radiating off her. In the end, these scenes only served to enrage me as a clear indication that this film knew how to be intelligent, and that the garbage I was being fed the rest of the time was deliberate.
This 20-year-old actress can't play a virgin to the point you'll doubt if she ever was one.
I won’t nitpick on the wrongness of the title - that fat girl Anaïs is not actually the main character. I won’t dig into the questionable translation of one of the most integral scenes where Anaïs and Elena shout insults at each other. Aside from the vitriol I spit in my first spoiler paragraph, this has fundamental problems in foundational scenes:
That first sex scene is where the film began to sour for me. Every possible line that comes out of Fernando’s mouth is an exhaustive omnibus of every virgin-seduction cliché spawned of the worst of 80s after-school specials and wholesome sitcoms, squozen out of Fernando in an extended 15 minute scene. Since so little of his character was developed before this scene, Fernando becomes a flat caricature of a date rapist in a scene that goes on seven minutes too long. This would be somewhat forgivable if Roxane Mesquida in the role of Elena could halfway act. Left to her own devices to fail in her sex scenes, she just lies there, un-directed, reacting poorly to the stuff going on around her. Rather than playing a sexual virgin, she was succeeding at being an awkward screen virgin. She was consistently unbelievable and dispassionate, but in this scene, utterly incapable of conveying a single honest emotion. Pathetic. What’s worse, after this scene drags on in the bedroom, it is taken outside, only to continue, repeated like a horrible soap opera.
Fat Girl tries to be this deep introspective film but it's too much a farce. Seeing Fernando’s uncaring erect dork twice didn’t shock me as Breillat intended, it only made me laugh. From dialogue that constantly made me doubt that girls ever spoke this way to basic questions of un-addressed parenting logic – “no dear, you CAN'T date a 21 year-old” - Fat Girl disappointed only to come back and tease with sparks of possibility consitently unfulfilled.
P.S. When the talent isn't related, don't have a scene where they talk about how they don't look alike.
Performance: 6 Cinematography: 7 Script: 5 Plot: 6 Mood: 4
Overall Rating: 56% (A Big Fat Mess)
Of course, once this ended I ran to the book to find out the reason this could possibly be worth waiting to die for. The entry was vague and talked mainly about the director. The most relevant quote I could find about the reason for its inclusion was this: "Fat Girl is a tough-minded film that gets inside the heads and desires of its two young female leads in a way that is all its own," Talk about weak. Not at all surprised that it got bumped from the 1001 list in the 2006 edition, my only real question is “how did sneak past three previous editions?"
I would now like to officially apologize to Girlfriend of Squish. Let us hope our relationship can be salvaged after this grotesquerie.