I was fully aware that by focusing on women in film for the entire month of March that not every single film I encountered would exist within the realm of the uplifting narrative, in fact, I will be admittedly more surprised to find films that are outright positive when handling such subject matter, especially considering the very nature of oppression and othering that exists within cinema concerning women and/or the female body. However, Fat Girl takes intensity to another level. I had been warned by a friend years ago about Fat Girl being a "brutal" film, much in the same way that say, Steve McQueen's Hunger is a brutal film, or Michael Haneke's...well pretty much anything is brutal. That is to say that these works exist not to allow a viewer any sort of relational comfort or cinematic tradition to cling onto throughout the narrative. Fat Girl, like the other films noted, exists to provoke, enrage and question all who view it, right down to the very nature with which one expects actions to occur within cinema, but, perhaps most importantly, to relate and manage the assumptions about what bodies are appropriate for occupying the spaces of film. Fat Girl makes no apologies about its context and commentaries, absolutely, demanding viewers to accept that nothing shown is meant to be heartfelt or endearing, but instead blatantly terrible and factually unfortunate. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, to call this film a slow burn would be to overlook the very precise provocative scenes within the film, each intended to deconstruct romantic traditionalism, particularly one scene which shot with a stagnant camera comprises roughly a fourth of the considerably brief film. It is as though the moment is a purposeful homage to Godard's Breathless, in which, gender politics unfold over a similarly lengthy bedroom scene, yet, in the hands of shock director Catherine Breillat, the scene does not possess even an ounce of the possible gender subversion of the French New Wave classic, instead it affirms all the truths and tragedies that manage to prove the completely illogical ideology of some theorists that society exists in a world where feminist discourse and politics are redundant and irrelevant, as Fat Girl shows, this is decidedly and absolutely not the case.
Fat Girl, titled A ma souer!, or To My Sister! in its original French translation, focuses on the experiences of two young, relatively well-to-do children on vacation to the French seaside. Anaïs Pingot (Anaïs Reboux) is a obese young girl of twelve who is clearly the proverbial black sheep within her family, compared to her ethereal and sprite-like sister of fifteen Elena (Roxane Mesquida). Realizing that Anaïs rather flippant attitude and less fortunate looks will cause individuals to take pause when approaching Elena, the parents demand that they always spend time together, mostly as a ruse to assure that Elena, whose promiscuity is openly acknowledged, avoids any engagements that might tarnish their family name. Elena, of course, takes this assumption and runs with it, simply ignoring the presence of Anaïs when possible, even going so far as to push her out of the way when she is approached by an Italian tourist named Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), instead; swooping in to become the object of his affection. A scene the displays Anaïs moving back and forth between the swimming pool pretending two polls are different lovers that she is entangled with in a fiery affair. This unusual scene is followed by Elena and Anaïs getting ready for bed, where Elena explains that no matter what happens that night, she must ignore it and be quiet so much so, that when Fernando shows up attempting to have intercourse with Elena, only succeeding in anal sex, Anaïs is forced to deal with the very loud aftermath of the acts, condemning them both the following morning. Yet, given the guidelines of their parents, the two must hangout together, this time with the presence of Fernando who is still attempting to win over Elena. While Anaïs lays on the beach defeated, Fernando proposes to Elena, which, in turn, causes her to agree to having intercourse with him, an act that is shot from an angle to display Anaïs crying the entire time. Fernando's mother then comes to the Pingot beach house demanding that Elena return a valuable ring, which leads to a revelation about what has occurred between her and Fernando. Frustrated the girls mother demands that they return home, even if it means a non-stop drive on a deathly busy and occupied French highway. Exhausted their mother decides to pull into a rest stop, leading to the, extremely intense, closing sequence of the film, that defies logic, but, ultimately, undermines the larger filmic metaphor.
I was surprised to find out that a heavy amount of male support has been directed towards this film, particularly from a sect of French male filmmakers known in the past for their misogyny. A heavy amount of the disdain is a result of issues with the manner in which Anaïs affirms an event the ends the film, a rape to be specific and spoil the ending, some suggest it results in a degree of victim blaming, yet I cannot help but think that it speaks to the larger issue of character ignoring narratively. The title Fat Girl, as Breillat suggests in an essay that came along with the Criterion release, was her original choice and only changed it, in order, to help actress Anaïs Reboux be at ease with exactly why she was cast in her role. The fact that Anaïs speaks out at the end seems heavily a call to attention and her denial is a larger metaphor for the denial that is very much placed of non-traditional bodies within media. It is simple to assume that nothing happened to her, because society says she does not fit the traditional norms of beauty, therefore, is not the normal victim within the context of such a rhetoric, one would be quicker to assume that such actions would happen to Elena than to Anaïs. Of course, since the final moment is necessarily and inextricably tied to sex, viewers are left to take Anaïs word on the entire event, as the way in which acts are shot, we are only shown faces. It is possible that given the lies she heard earlier spouted by the sex-craving Fernando that she may not have indeed believed herself to be a victim of certain sexual violence. Since she only knows sex as defined by films and by the lies spouted by sex crazed teens she may have been raped in a non-vaginal manner, still rape, but not within the limited vocabulary of Anaïs young mind. It is audacious to think that a misogynistic group would embrace such a film, because it is very much about the very real woes and problems of male based oppression emotionally, mentally and especially physically. Like the small family car weaving through the unrelenting trucks on the highway, Anaïs, and to some degree Elena, find themselves navigating a treacherous, unyielding world of larger, dangerously oppressive objects.
Key Scene: While the film is all visually intense, the car ride is so heightened in tension that when it ends you assume the worst to be over, however, it is far from the case.
This is a visually audacious film that cannot really be explained verbally, what I can say, however, is that it is deserved of a bluray purchase without hesitation.