Fat Girl (Blu-ray)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 86 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Review Date: April 29, 2011
The love and rivalry between sisters isn’t always detailed as flagrantly yet as dispassionately as it is in Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl. Most films take an either/or approach in dealing with sibling relationships, particularly if the siblings are close together in age, but here the affection between the sisters is just as important as their displeasure with one another. The problem with the film, however, lies in the tone of Breillat’s story and its ultimate lack of development. Feelings are spoken of but not delved into much, and there’s an undeniable paucity of expansion in terms of plotting and characterization. The film seems more an outline than a finished work, and it’s a mostly unsatisfying experience in spite of some provocative elements and the potential for something greater to have come out of the raw elements which are present.
On summer vacation at the seaside with their parents, thirteen year-old Anais (Anais Reboux) and fifteen year-old Elena (Roxane Mesquida) meet the handsome and charming college sophomore Fernando (Libero de Rienzo). He’s smitten with Elena immediately and later that night enters the room she shares with her sister, and they begin to make love. Elena calls things off since she’s a virgin and unsure that she’s ready to make this leap into more adult feelings and is embarrassed that her sister is in the room with her and likely listening to what’s happening. A romantic day on the beach with Fernando, however, convinces her that she does indeed want to give herself fully to him. Despite her sister’s instinctual surmises that he’s only deceiving her to get what he wants and doesn’t have true feelings for her, Elena submits to him that night while Anais weeps silently. The following morning brings a new set of developments which complicates everything.
Though writer-director Catherine Breillat has no qualms about showing both of her actors fully nude during much of the foreplay during both of their lovemaking sessions, she interestingly takes the camera over to study Anais’ face and body language as the actual sex acts come to climax. Undoubtedly concerned with the thoughts, feelings, and physicality of her two female protagonists, the camera embraces them throughout, both the traditionally attractive Elena and the obese Anais. It’s not really a substitute for real character exploration or in-depth examinations about what makes these girls tick, but it does allow the audience to identify with the longings and illogical decision making of the girls throughout the film. We also aren’t privy to any of the discussions between the parents (played by Arsinee Khanjian and Romain Goupil) once the information comes out about what Elena and Fernando have done or the confrontation between Fernando and his mother (Laura Betti) about the legal issues of his having sex with a girl not yet of age. The abrupt departure and journey home is thrillingly filmed by the director in a series of point-of-view and bird’s-eye-view shots, but her climactic plot device to shock the audience out of its likely complacency comes out of nowhere and is most unappealing and unappreciated. For all of the film’s lack of discovery about the inner workings of its characters’ psyches, the final turn of events is rather an unexpected cop out.
Though Anais Reboux plays the title role and has the film’s haunting last shot, it’s actually Roxane Mesquida who’s the real star of the film. Youthfully luscious and desirable, hers is picture perfect casting, and her performance is utterly brave with the varied menu of sex acts her character must undertake during the film. She also has a terrifically believable love-hate vibe with Anais Reboux. For her part, Anais is more reflective than expressive and a little less interesting than her co-star, but she gives the part her all as well and deserves much credit for handling some of the extremes of life that her character must endure. Libero de Rienzo doesn’t make a false step as the lothario who charms his way into the bed of this underaged girl and seduces her with impressive patience and gentle ease (and for having no misgivings about the director’s shooting him applying a condom to his erect penis). Arsinee Khanjian’s mother gets the job done with a rather brittle performance.
The film is framed at its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s a near-perfect transfer featuring very appealing color with just the perfect amount of saturation and flesh tones that are very realistic. Sharpness is almost always top notch with plenty of detail revealed in facial features, hair, and even in beach sand and driftwood. Black levels are merely good rather than great. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix features crystal clear dialogue recording which is routed to the center channel and effective but not overly aggressive ambiance from the ocean sounds and passing highway traffic filtered through the fronts and rears. There is no music score, but the use of natural music from the radio and speakers also gets nice placement throughout the soundstage.
All of the video featurettes are presented in 1080i.
“The Making of Fat Girl” is a 5 ½-minute overview of the film with director Catherine Breillat discussing her aims with the movie and stars Roxane Mesquida and Anais Reboux talking a bit about their characters.
Catherine Breillat discusses her filmmaking philosophy: how she works with actors, how she fashions the story, how she trusts her editor to take her vision and make it a reality, and this film’s alternate ending in a 10-minute vignette.
Interviewed the day after the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001, Catherine Breillat and her two stars talk about the psychology of the characters and the differences between film and life in an 11 ¾-minute interview.
Both the U.S. and French theatrical trailers are presented. Each runs 1 ¼ minutes.
The enclosed 21-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, several color stills from the movie, film professor Ginette Vincendeau’s analysis of the movie, an interview with director Catherine Breillat, and a brief essay by the director about her film’s unusual title.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
3/5 (not an average)
An unusual but not altogether satisfying look at the loss of a young girl’s virginity and how its affects both her and her younger sister, Fat Girl is sure to divide audiences as to its merits. The Criterion disc looks and sounds splendid, and there are a few bonus interviews which give us a deeper look at the woman behind the film.