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Fat Girl: The Criterion Collection

Writer-director Catherine Breillat barely stretches the (ironically) thin premise of À ma soeur! ("Fat Girl") into a feature-length film, and even at 86 minutes manages little more with its promising premise than some explicit sex scenes. Anaïs Reboux stars as Anaïs, an overweight 13-year-old enduring another family vacation in the shadow of her pretty but vapid 15-year-old sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida). Despite their sisterly bond (and possibly because of it), Anaïs resents her older sister's generous and naive sexuality, and Elena is both contemptuous of Anaïs' slovenliness and eager to manipulate it to boost her own self-esteem. Inter-sibling tension is aggravated when Elena meets Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), a charming Italian boy eager to deflower her, regardless of the all-to-aware Anaïs' proximity to the event. Fancying herself some kind of sexual provocateur, Breillat (whose graphic Romance simultaneously shocked and bored, but more successfully) should have found a better story in this scenario, but her output is fairly prosaic, never reaching beyond the basic assumptions one might make about the psychology of a chubby adolescent humiliated by her older sister's careless and cruel vanity. To cover her lack of ideas (and soak up some running time), Breillat focuses on a long sexual encounter between Elena and Fernando (with Anaïs feigning sleep across the room) that reveals how young men will say anything to get sex. The scene is well constructed, but it's old news, and the shock value of showing an erect penis fails to make it relevant and also distracts from the more compelling issue of Anaïs' self-image. Like Elena, Breillat simply seems to forget about her title character, and she only returns to her for detached sentimentality. Maybe that's the point, but it's not enough. Following the long centerpiece liaison between Elena and Fernando is some typically obtuse French drama leading to a long, time-padding montage of eventless driving scenes, and a Breillat-specialty shock ending that makes for an end moment which might have been memorable and touching if not drowned in the cynical and gratuitous extremity of its leading events. It's a nicely shot film, however, and with strong performances from its young principals. Also with Arsinée Khanjian (part of Atom Egoyan's repertory) and Romain Goupil. The Criterion Collection release presents Fat Girl in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio mixes (dialogue is in French, with English subtitles). The disc also includes a couple of brief featurettes, during which Breillat reveals an unequalled sense of unearned self-importance. One of the interviews also includes a look at an insignificant alternate ending. French and U.S. trailers, keep case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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