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    Fat Girl

    Weight on the sidelines

    "Fat Girl" is a dark portrayal of one girl's adolescent tribulations through the eyes of her chubbier sister, who could only dream of sharing her sister's problems.


    (Originally reviewed at the New York Film Festival in September 2001.)

    The French film "Fat Girl" is nominally about a chubby preteen who has suffered for her failure to measure up to contemporary standards of beauty. But it is also a brilliantly dark portrayal of adolescent alienation and the little tyrannies of youthful sexuality.

    Original title: A Ma Soeur.
    Directed by: Catherine Breillat.
    Cast: Anais Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Romain Goupil, and Arsinee Khanjian.
    In French with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    New York Film Festival 2001

    All About Lily Chou-Chou
    Blue Wild Angel
    La Cienaga
    Fat Girl
    The Royal Tenenbaums
    Mulholland Drive
    Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.
    Waking Life
    Va Savoir
    Y Tu Mama Tambien
    Anais is the preteen title character whose most reliable ally is food. She is at best a barely tolerated outcast in her handsome family, and she is unfortunate enough to be aware of this fact.

    She's also quite witty. At a meal with her family and her sister's boyfriend, she prepares a heaping plate of food for herself, provoking a derisive remark from her father. I was afraid it would all go, she replies.

    And when her older sister, 15-year-old Elena (Liv Tyler doppelganger Roxane Mesquida), asks her if it would be wrong to allow her boyfriend to have vaginal sex with her (they've already had anal intercourse), an exasperated Anais tells her there's "no moral difference."

    Newcomer Anais Reboux, as the title character, matches her stocky body and lumbering gait with stubborn resilience and a window into her character's cobbled-together inner life. The movie is set during a family vacation, and in one scene, she swims back and forth in a pool between a sun deck and a ladder, pretending each is a demanding lover and bestowing kisses and conciliatory words.

    Fat Girl  
    Her sister, meanwhile, is preoccupied with a new beau, a law student taken by her considerable beauty. Too young to go about on her own, she drags Anais with her on her clandestine visits with him. Anyone above the age of 18 can tell where the couple's superficial romance is going, but it is our and Elena's fate that it must be played out.

    Theirs is a typical teen courtship, complete with too-soon declarations of love and young lovers' logic — he presents his desire for sex as a "demonstration of love," and she hears love in his desire for sex.

    But just as their sweet nothings are comfortingly familiar, the couple's sex scenes are familiarly discomfiting.

    The seduction of Elena takes place in the room she shares with Anais, who pretends to be asleep in her bed while her sister negotiates for her virginity. Director Catherine Breillat, never known for timidity in on-screen matters of the flesh (her 1999 movie "Romance" featured real sex scenes) presents the lovers in close-up while they talk but cuts to a weeping Anais, no longer feigning slumber, when they copulate.

    Again we witness Anais' isolation and her loneliness. There's jealousy here, too, not just of Elena but of the boy who wins her unequivocal attention and admiration. As rivalrous and often emotionally abusive as their relationship may be (Elena constantly insults Anais), the girls have moments of closeness that appear to be Anais' only source of pure joy.

    The movie, after all this dreary but absorbing drama, turns violent in a shocking ending that I won't spoil here. The final scenes were based on a news story Breillat read in a paper years ago.

    Some moviegoers may find what happens as senseless as the original, real-life acts were. But it might be easier to think of the finale as Anais' dream come true — a dream imagined by an overlooked, underappreciated girl whose fantasy life was always much more satisfying than anything she ever experienced, and certainly anything she ever ate.

    OCTOBER 12, 2001

    Reader comments on Fat Girl:

  • Banned in Ontario   from , Mar 22, 2002
  • Internet web site Roxane Mesquida   from weepy, Apr 11, 2003
  • healthy girl   from polarity, Jan 9, 2007

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