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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Fat Girl - The Criterion Collection.



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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted October 13 2004 - 08:07 AM

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Fat Girl
The Criterion Collection





Studio: Criterion
Year: 2001
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 86 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1/DTS
Color/B&W: Color
Languages: French
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $29.95
Package: Single Disc/Keepcase





The Feature:
Anais (played by Anaïs Reboux) is the young overweight twelve year old sister of Elena (played Roxane Mesquida). Fifteen year old Elena is a good looking sexy teenager, interested in taking her sexual experiences to a different level. The sisters are vacationing with their parents and Elena is in charge of watching her younger sister, who spends much of her time tagging along. Elena, who realizes the power of her sexuality, spends much of her time berating and belittling her younger corpulent sister, who is fully aware of her physical setback, though she seems to be rather empty and hollow - perhaps a defense mechanism which doesn’t allow her to get too close. Anais’ personality is rather docile and transparent, and though she never seems to lash back, she is the target of many a hurtful words and comments from her older but slightly less mature sibling.

One afternoon the girls set out on a walk and soon meet up with an attractive young Italian law student, Fernando (played by Libero De Rienzo) who quickly catches the eye of Elena. She quickly sends Anais off to eat a banana split giving her the opportunity to meet and to talk to the good looking boy. Five minutes into the conversation, they are making out in front of the entire restaurant while Anais sits and watches while eating the ice cream that seems to bring her so much comfort.

It would seem as though the much older college student is playing Elena as just another summer conquest but she is determined to take her sexual exploration further and eventually invites him to sneak into her bedroom one night while her parents are home and where her younger sister, Anais, sleeps in the bed just across the room. Needless to say, what happens next, plays out as an act of cruelty as the younger sister, Anais pretends to be sleeping while her sister engages in various sexual acts. Even though the majority of the acts themselves take place off screen, one can only feel that of queasiness, for her sister who’s forced to watch and listen in what amounts to psychological abuse - abuse that’s tantamount to the act of rape itself. Anais is forced to watch in silence, and in an odd way, conspiring with the pair, but harboring jealousy and similar desires.

As the movie progresses, so to do her feelings for Fernando but after a visit from the boy’s mother, the relationship comes to an abrupt end, causing disappointment for her seemingly unconcerned and materialistic parents. As the girls head back home, Elena is threatened by her mother that her father is insistent on her being examined after her sexual encounter with the much older boy. At this point I don’t feel I can say much more without ruining the ending for those not familiar with the film, but suffice it to say that what follows is a tense and shocking ending with a surprise that is sure to leave viewers dumfounded.

À ma soeur! (Fat Girl) is not only a film about sexuality; it is a film about strong sibling rivalry and family discord. Though the film seems to spend much of it’s time focused on the prettier but older sister, Elena, clearly the focus is on the younger and more troubled sister, Anais. The sexuality in the film can be bothersome, particularly in light of the age of Anais. Does the film go beyond acceptable and proper limits? Perhaps. But if anything, the sex scenes are very anti-erotic. Perhaps, what makes this film so provocative and disturbing is the treatment Anais receives from not only her sister, but from her own parents who seem oblivious to the needs of their obviously troubled daughter. Their actions, however, have unforeseen tragic consequences for the whole family.

As a note of interest, particularly to those of us here in Ontario, Canada, this film was banned within the province during it’s initial release in November 2001 on the grounds that it offended "contemporary provincial moral standards" and only in January 2003 was the ban lifted by the Ontario Film Review Board, after Bill Moody replaced Robert Warren as the Board's Chair and new guidelines for reviewing films were adopted. The OFRB was also threatened by the film's North American distributor, Cowboy Pictures of a potential lawsuit.

The Feature: 4/5
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Video:
I had no idea what to expect, but the video portion of this transfer looks pretty darn impressive.

Let’s start with my only real complaint of the entire presentation; contrast. And admittedly, it’s more of an observation, than that of a complaint. The overall look of the film is slightly “boosted”, slightly heavy in contrast. Perhaps, that was the intent, allowing the film to look slightly sterile - almost clinical. These observations are really only pertinent during the outdoor scenes.

Black levels were very deep, falling just short of perfect, while whites looked clean and stark. Colors were vibrant but just slightly muted and flesh tones looked fairly accurate, but appeared to be rather pasty during the “contrasty” look of the outdoor shots.

Image detail was also impressive as there was a fair amount of well defined imagery. Most of the close-ups were indeed quite sharp and only rarely did wide and long shots loose their sharpness. There was only a very minute amount of fine film grain present resulting in a wonderful image deep in dimensionality.

The print was spotless, free of any dirt or blemishes and the image was rock solid and free of any shimmer or jitter.

There were no problems whatsoever relating to compression artifacting or edge enhancement.

A very nice job…!

Video: 4/5
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Audio:
I was probably even more impressed with the audio presentation of this disc, than I was with the video presentation since I didn’t see it coming. I figured, hey a dialogue driven film, pretty basic stuff – not so. The disc is encoded with a DD 5.1 track along with an optional DTS track. As an ardent fan of DTS, I watched the entire film using it as an option but I did use the audio button on my remote to switch on-the-fly to make many comparisons, and I’m of the opinion, the DTS track was far and away, the better of the two.

The track is free of any hiss or other noise and the overall tonality of the track is natural. Typical of most Criterion discs, the dialogue was not only clear and intelligible but slightly on the forward side – something I prefer. In this case, I would call it exceptional.

The film is basically dialogue driven, but the dynamics of the track aren’t as limited as you might think. When I compared the tracks, the DTS option offered a much broader sense of dynamics i.e. blowing grass, walking on sand, rumbling of trucks etc. In many cases the DD track sounded anemic in comparison. Perhaps, the best examples to highlight the comparisons were during the musical numbers that were used to accompany the film. The DTS track was presented in manner that made my front soundstage as wide as I’ve ever heard it with terrific separation, while the DD track sounded dull and lacked any pop.

The surrounds were only used to add to the envelopment in terms of traffic and waves etc. They were tactfully employed, but could have been used to a greater extent. The .1 channel was used basically to enhance the bass of the few musical pieces that accompanied the film.

By no means reference, but pleasantly unexpected.

Audio: 4/5
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Special Features:
There are only a few special features on this disc starting with:
[*] The Making of Fat Girl which is a behind the scenes look at the production of the film including BTS footage that was shot throughout the production. Director Catherine Breillat offers comments relating to the sexuality aspect of the film, a theme which is common among many of her films. She also discusses her technique as well as her methods with regards to the preparation of the cast members during such awkward shots. Duration: 5:39 minutes.
[*] Next up are a couple of Interviews. The first is “Catherine Breillat Talks About Her Film” and the second is entitled, “2001 Berlin International Film Festival”. The first is a discussion with the director about her film and her methods as well as a discussion about the alternate ending (which is shown). The latter, is an interview with Breillat that was conducted for German television the day after the screening but never shown in its entirety. Duration: 9:58 and 11:49 minutes.
[*] There are two also two Theatrical Trailers. The first is the U.S. Trailer, while the second one is the French Trailer. The French trailer is much better than the U.S. version, not only in its presentation but is more representative of the film. The U.S. version also contains many more spoilers. Duration: 1:21 and 1:12 minutes.
[*] The final special feature is a 12 page folded Insert which not only contains the Cast & Crew and a Chapter List, but an essay on the film by Ginette Vincendeau, film professor at the University of Warwick in England. There is also a 6 page interview with Catherine Breillat by Stéphane Goudet and Claire Vassé.

Special Features: 3.5/5
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**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



Final Thoughts:
Fat Girl is a deeply troubling and disturbing tale of a young girl entering the throws of womanhood, fully aware of her physical disadvantages. Even though everyone around her treats her terribly, the passive young teen continues to show affection although those who surround her don’t deserve it. I enjoyed this film far more than I thought I would or perhaps should have. If I were limited to the use of a single word to describe this film, it would be “disturbing”. Yet when the film was all over, I really did enjoy the movie. And, that’s exactly how Catherine Breillat would want it.

Based on the subject matter alone, I would cautiously recommend this film. If you are familiar with Breillat and her work or if you are familiar with this film in particular, then you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. In any event, Criterion has once again done a wonderful job as the presentation of this provocative film is superb.

Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)
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Release Date: October 19th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Joe Cortez

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Posted October 13 2004 - 12:05 PM

Thanks for the review, Herb; I've been looking forward to this release for awhile.

Breillat's not my fav filmmaker, but she's got a lot of guts and I definitely admire her for that.

#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted October 13 2004 - 12:26 PM

Nice review Herb.

I caught this on Expressvu last year (not long after the ban was lifted in Ontario).

It was interesting, and it reminds me of Dumont's Twentynine Palms somewhat - but I can't see myself wanting to watch it again.

I defintely recommend NOT purchasing this title blind, as it's a love/hate type film and may not have much replay value.

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   WarrenM

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Posted October 13 2004 - 12:30 PM

I have been waiting for this title ever since I started collecting DVD's about 2 years ago, and now it's finally coming. It sounds excellent, too!!! The screen captures I saw at DVDBeaver looked amazing. This will actually be my very first Criterion release. I am very glad they got the rights to it instead of an independent company that surely would've used a PAL master. It is nice to be able to view a french film the way it was supposed to be seen.

I've also been told this is probably Breillat's most accessible film, so if you are curious this is the one to try out. Probably as a rental though, as Marc said, it's a love/hate type of film.