“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”:
(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”, Kamera.co.uk, 1999, www.kamera.co.uk/interviews/catherinebreillat.html
Other Resources for Information About Catherine Breillat