Fat Girl (À ma soeur!)

Twelve year old Anais (Anais Reboux) eats to forget and she has plenty around her worth filtering out - her father's a workaholic, her mother's a nervous, self-absorbed chain-smoker and her older sister is plotting to lose her virginity to an Italian lothario in their shared bedroom in writer/director Catherine Breillat's ("Romance) "Fat Girl."

Laura's Review: B

French director Breillat has a history of exploring female sexuality from uncomfortable angles, returning here to the adolescence of her first (known in the US) film, "36 Fillette." "Fat Girl" is no pleasure to watch, yet haunts in retrospect.

When a good looking young man asks Anais if she wishes to sit at his table in a crowded outdoor cafe, older sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida, "The School of Flesh") manipulates the situation to her advantage. As she smooches with Fernando (Libero De Rienzo) Anais glumly devours a banana split.

Soon he's ensconced poolside at their parents' vacation resort digs as Anais withdraws to fantasyland, swimming between aluminum pool steps which she treats as dueling lovers like Molly Shannon treats trees as Mary Katherine Gallagher in "Superstar." When night falls, Anais is forced to listen to her sister's degradation and sexual awakening at the hands of the obviously insincere Fernando (Breillat uses Anais' POV, but even though Anais mostly keeps her eyes shut, we have explicit knowledge of what transpires).

When Elena asks Anais' advice about losing her virginity, Anais curtly replies 'from this and what you've already done, I see no moral difference.' While Anais is jealous, she also wisely notes that one should lose one's virginity to a man one has no feelings for, a nobody, so that the experience isn't turned into a notch in a male belt. Elena should listen, as her 'boyfriend' is the type who describes dumping a girl for sport and expects knowing laughter in return for his story.

However, Elena ignores the advice and receives an expensive mauve opal ring from Fernando. When his mother (Laura Betti) arrives demanding the return of her jewel, shaming Elena and her mother (Arsinie Khanjian, "Felicia's Journey"), mom declares vacation over. Professing a hatred for driving, mom bundles the two into the family Mercedes and begins a stressful journey home that the three won't complete as Anais' simmering wishes explode in sudden and horrific violence from an unexpected source.

Breillat succeeds in presenting a complex relationship between the two sisters, a love/hate relationship at an age when parents are naturally distanced. While Elena's taunts are cutting, her character nonetheless remains sympathetic as she chooses to ignore Fernando's motives in light of her own insecurities. Anais sullenly hides behind her bulk, but her observations, when voiced, are surprisingly mature. In a well shot scene where the two sisters compare themselves gazing into a mirror, Elena's beautiful features become sharply angular, while a softness shows a hidden beauty in Anais.

As for the controversial ending, the filmmaker both tips off her audience that something dreadful is coming, building suspense with menacing trucks on a rain-slicked highway, and totally surprises when the moment arrives. Poltergeists and other supernatural disturbances have often been linked to the turbulent emotions of an adolescent. In "Fat Girl," Anais becomes the "Carrie" of a new generation.

Robin's Review: C+

12-year old Anais (Anais Reboux) has a weight problem that is exacerbated by a family that offers nothing - no understanding or affection - to help build up the young girl's self esteem. While on a family vacation, her pretty 15-year old sister, Elena (Roxane Mesquida), on the threshold of budding sexuality, falls for the charms (and lies) of Fernando (Libero de Rienzo), an Italian college student also vacationing in the area. Elena's trysts with the handsome student fall under the unwilling scrutiny of Anais as the older sister losses her virginity in "Fat Girl."

Director/screenwriter Catherine Breillat turned a lot of heads as she blurred the boundary between art and pornography in her 1999 film of liberated sexuality, "Romance." She pushes the envelop once again with her latest flick, this time exploring the realm of adolescent sexuality and the chasm that exists between Anais and her family.

Anais is the observer of the film as she compensates for the neglect of her mother and sister in the pleasures of food. The young girl is further alienated when sister Elena takes up with the randy Fernando who pays lip service to Elena's concerns about sex but, really, just wants to get into the teen girl's pants. He rapidly succeeds, sneaking into the room shared by the sisters for his nocturnal attempts to get laid. Anais is forced, more or less, to be an observer of Elena's deflowering and is far savvier about Fernando's intent than her older sister. Anais is in the first stages of puberty herself but with her insecurity and poor self-esteem, she lacks human contact for her emotions and replaces them with inanimate objects - think of Molly Shannon in "Superstar" without the humor.

"Fat Girl" is art house fare that will have problems getting an audience. It is too graphic, sexually, for teens and adolescents and adults will not likely be drawn to a tale of pre-teen angst. The abruptly violent finish will disturb kids (and, probably, adults), too. This leads me to a problem that I have with the film. While there is a sense of foreboding in the minutes leading up to the shocking finale, there is nothing to prepare the viewer for the shock of murderous violence. This from-left-field conclusion left me feeling cheated by the writer who seems bent on shocking the audience, not "finishing" the story.