Arresting Ana (Dir. Lucie Schwartz, 2009)

Country of Origin: ,
Running Time: 26 min

Format: Color, DVD

Arresting Ana is a film that, despite its short running time, grapples with a number of serious and troubling issues concerning the intersections of body image, free speech, and the Internet. The film centers around the pro-anorexia cyber movement, and follows Sarah, an 18 year-old college student with a “pro-Ana” blog called “In Search of Perfection, ” and Valerie Boyer, a legislator seeking to making websites like Sarah’s, illegal. The film describes “Ana” as a way for those struggling with the illness to personify the disease. In the film, Sarah describes “Ana” as a supportive and motivating force and even, a friend. The film depicts both the political and personal sides of this struggle, posing questions concerning free speech, along with the danger and efficacy of such websites. It considers both how these websites function for those suffering from the disease, and also what the impact of the Boyer Law might have on young women like Sarah.

The film, which takes place in France, also deals with how women living in a society so obsessed with food and thinness, might grapple with such opposing pressures. The film is interspersed with images of Paris—of it’s restaurants and markets alongside the advertisements of super-thin fashion models that permeate the country’s visual culture. The film, which focuses on Sarah’s perspective, shows how these websites, whose message can easily be construed as “morbid and perverse,” also serve as communities and outlets for those suffering with eating disorders to connect with others facing similar struggles. However, the film also includes screen shots of these blogs and sites, revealing the troubling imagery and ideology they often seem to promote.

Although the film focuses on the French legislation trying to ban “pro-Ana” websites, which would include up to two-years in prison and a 30,000 Euro fine, it also addresses the universal pervasiveness of this growing trend. As stated in the film, such websites exist in every language and every culture, a fact that underscores the disturbing growth and omnipresence of this disease. By providing the viewer with Sarah’s perspective, the film conveys a more complete sense of how these individuals view themselves, and how these online communities function for individuals struggling with eating disorders and body image.

For further information:

Film’s official website:

Overbeke, Grace (2008), “Pro-Anorexia Websites: Content, Impact, and
Explanations of Popularity”, The Wesleyan Journal of Psychology 3: 49–62

Norris, Mark L; Boydell, Katherine M; Pinhas, Leora; Katzman, Debra K (2006), “Ana and the internet: A review of pro-anorexia websites”, The International journal of eating disorders 39 (6): 443–447

Morris, Bonnie Rothman (2002-06-23), “A Disturbing Growth Industry: Web Sites That Espouse Anorexia”, New York Times,

Harris, Misty (2007-09-15), “Online anorexia videos prompt call for website restrictions”, Edmonton Journal,

(in French) Proposition de loi visant à lutter contre les incitations à la recherche d’une maigreur extrême ou à l’anorexie, Assemblée nationale, 2008-07-02,

Schwartz, Lucie (2009-12-22), Outlawing Ana: French lawmakers battle eating disorders (, PBS Frontline

Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi, Agnes Varda, 1985, France)

Country of Origin:

Subject Headings: homelessness, French society, sexuality, gender, poverty, death.
The story of Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire), a homeless drifter, Vagabond explores issues of epistemology and gender. Using a pseudo-talking heads format, where the camera often acts as the interlocutor, characters giver their accounts of Mona’s last weeks on Earth.
The movie’s narrative structure mildly resembles that of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941, USA) in that it begins with the death of the central character. As Mona’s narrative progresses, the audience comes to see all of the contradictions in Mona’s character. She longs to be free, yet develops a destructively dependent relationship with almost everyone she encounters.
One of the most stunning facets of the movie is the ways in which Varda introduces the ways in which Mona’s gender complicates her status as societal outsider. In one scene Mona comes across a mechanic whom she implores for work. Mona and the mechanic’s young assistant exchange flirtatious glances. The film then cuts to a scene in which the mechanics assistant looks out the window. In what is assumed to be a subjective camera of the assistant’s point of view, the audience sees the mechanic get out of Mona’s tent with his pants down. In the next scene the mechanic, who sits at his desk, bemoans Mona’s unwillingness to let him sleep with her. It is assumed that because Mona is homeless and a woman that her sexuality is the free reign of any man with money.
Mona’s story ends where it began: with her lying in a ditch, hopeless, starving and waiting to die.

Useful Text:
Flitterman-Lewis, S. To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Ramanathan, Geetha. Feminist Auteurs. London: Wallflower Press, 2006.

Le Bonheur (Happiness) (dir. Agnès Varda, 1965)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 87 min

Le Bonheur (Happiness) is an incredibly beautiful, compelling exploration of the meaning of happiness and how to achieve it in modern day society. The film focuses on a happy, handsome, young family of four. It opens on a scene of an idyllic, lazy afternoon in the forest. Surrounded by saturated green, François (Jean-Claude Drouot) and Thérèse (played by Jean-Claude’s real wife Claire Drouot) seem utterly in love with each other and with their two small children (played by the couple’s real children) as they enjoy a day in the countryside. The whole scene is bursting with vivid color, strains of cheerful Mozart, and the utter happiness of the family. The next day François returns to his job as a carpenter while his wife works as a seamstress (while completing successive domestic tasks in a series of shots that surely influenced Jeanne Dielman (1975)). We soon see signs of his selfishness and her complacency: he picks at dinner, insisting he is hungry, while she half-heartedly asks him to wait five minutes until it is finished. However, there are no signs of resentment from either character; both seem incredibly content and in love, happy with each other and their lives.

A few days later, François meets Émilie, an attractive young post office worker. Without hesitation, he begins to have an affair with her. He explains to her that he is very happy at home, and loves his wife and children dearly, but also loves her. Émilie only adds to his happiness and he has no qualms about lying to Therese about his whereabouts when he is with her. However, as the affair continues, Émilie approaches François about her discomfort in thinking about him with his wife. He replies that had he met Émilie first, he would be living with her. But he can’t help that Thérèse came first and that he loves her. He has enough joy for the two of them, he assures Émilie.

Eventually, Thérèse asks François why he is especially happy lately at another country outing. He explains that “more happiness” is making him happier. As she probes him for more (“You wouldn’t understand, he initially tells her), he finally admits to the affair. Thérèse is first upset, and François repeatedly grabs her face to force her to look at him while he explains his rationale. He is simply happier now, can’t she tell? Hasn’t he been even more loving to her and the children lately? Is it affecting his behavior towards her at all? She finally succumbs and accepts his rationalization. They passionately make love, but when he awakes she is gone. He frantically searches for her until her drowned body washes onto the shore: she committed suicide. François is genuinely heartbroken by her death, but it does not stop him from visiting Émilie once more. She soon takes the place of Thérèse, as evident in the final scene in the forest, identical to the opening except that it is now fall, and one blonde has replaced another.

This film asks some very difficult questions regarding the pursuit of one’s own happiness as a single goal. What makes the film so intriguing is Varda’s own ambiguous feelings on the subject matter. She does not choose a side, and does not condemn any character. All characters, even François, are still likeable by the end, making this a difficult film to judge. However, it is an enjoyable film, entertaining and viscerally beautiful on the surface, and teeming with difficult moral questions beneath.

For further reference:

New York Times Review

Also check out Filming Desire: A Journey Through Women’s Film, in which Varda is interviewed about her practices in filming sexuality from a feminist perspective.

Fat Girl (Dir: Catherine Breillat, 2001)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 86 min

“Á Ma Soeur!” released in America as “Fat Girl”
Written and Directed by: Catherine Breillat
Released: March 7, 2001
Original Format: 35mm, interpositiveCatherine Breillat, or “the bad girl intellectual of French film” as Amy Taubin of “The Village Voice” once wrote, is well known and widely criticized for her sexually explicit, often extremely graphic films and Fat Girl is no different. Fat Girl follows the lives of two sisters while on vacation in France, Elena, the beautiful older sister who is described as reeking of “loose morals” according to her sister, the “fat lump” Anaïs. The film starts out with them discussing the loss of virginity. Elena, like most fifteen-year-old girls, hopes to lose her virginity to her first true, reciprocated love. Anaïs, twelve, laughs at her and says that she wishes to give herself to “nobody”, that way when she does fall in love she can be “broken in”. She does not want anybody to say they had her first. This opening interaction not only demonstrates their conflicting values, but also sets the tone for their relationship throughout the film.

Soon after this conversation the sisters meet Fernando, an Italian student also on vacation, and Elena is almost immediately infatuated. As their relationship develops, Fernando and Elena have midnight rendezvous’ in her room, which she shares with her younger sister. Fernando aggressively seduces her, and she actively objects while Anaïs is awoken and forced to listen to them fight. Eventually he overwhelms Elena with protestations of love and affection, and they have sex while her sister weeps silently. Although Elena is convinced that they will be married, soon things go terribly wrong and their vacation is cut short when her mother finds out that she accepted a gift that Fernando had no right to give.
After an increasingly suspenseful car ride, the film ends shockingly with a tragic turn of events. This film touches on many themes, not only of sexuality and the loss of virginity but also sibling rivalry and relationships, as well as maturity and consent. Although it may be difficult to suggest showing it in an academic setting due to explicit and fairly disturbing content, Fat Girl should not be dismissed as it addresses important and provocative issues worth discussing.

For more information on Catherine Breillat, refer to the following interview conducted by Peter Sobczynski after the release of “Fat Girl”:

Real Young Girl, A (Dir: Catherine Breillat, 1976)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 93 min


(Une Vraie Jeune Fille)

Format of Official Release: DVD/VHSA Real Young Girl is Catherine Breillat’s first film based on her novel Le Soupirail. This film started the pivotal and controversial career of Breillat with its sexual content that led to it being banned in many countries only to be released in the festival circuit in 2000, twenty-four years after being made. As her other films, A Real Young Girl concerns the theme of sexuality as told through the perspective of a young woman. The intense visual nature of the film makes it difficult to describe exactly what the film actually consists of, as is typical of Breillat’s films, it needs to be seen to be thoroughly understood.

The story itself is rather simple in spite of its visual complexity. It takes place over a period of a young girl’s, named Alice (Charlotte Alexandra), summer vacation from boarding school. At 14 she is at the peak of her own sexual discovery. We are immediately aware of her sexual curiosity when she arrives home and sits at the dinner table. The scene seems to be set normally enough until Alice drops her spoon and as the camera moves down below the table we see her pick it up to pleasure herself as her family continues to eat. A dichotomy that continues throughout the film as she tries to let go of her old childlike self and embrace her new-found sexual nature. Alice becomes withdrawn because of this, even at school as portrayed in one of her flashbacks. She cannot escape her own blossoming physical self and often resides in her room writing in her diary and staring at herself in the mirror.

While her father works at a sawmill and her mother stays at home busy with domestic duties, Alice becomes bored with her surroundings. She becomes obsessed with her own sexual fantasies, and the boundaries between Alice’s daydreams and reality become increasingly blurred as the film progresses. She becomes fixated on Jim (Hiram Keller) an employee at her father’s sawmill. She often visits the sawmill to stare at Jim and fantasize about him in very sexually explicit and bizarre ways. Her thoughts drift beyond being purely sexual and border on the grotesque and gritty nature of her environment. Her interactions beyond the realm of fantasy are awkward as she travels around on her bike to bars and attempts to flirt with men. When she finally does catch the eye of Jim she resorts to acting like a little girl and the encounter falls short of her sexual fantasies.

This film could be scrutinized by its sexual content but such a characterization trivializes the content of this film and all of Breillat’s films. As Breillat states (in defense of often being called the “auteur of porn”), “I take sexuality as a subject, not as an object” (Wiegan). In order to well express the consciousness of her female characters it seems necessary for Breillat to express them visually. Of course, viewers become distracted by this imagery that creates such controversy and her films continue to be labeled as pornographic to this day.


Wiegan, Chris. “A Quick Chat with Catherine Breillat”,, 1999,

Other Resources for Information About Catherine Breillat