'Fat Girl' is a brooding drama about two adolescent sisters who are suddenly growing into their sexuality but see the whole matter from two different points of views. Like most siblings, their relationship is filled with an intimate closeness and kindness that is balanced with bitter rivalry and anger. Fights and name-calling are forgotten moments later, and their devotion to each other never fails to bring them back to one another. In one very sweet scene, the two hold each other tightly while staring at a bathroom mirror and admit their differences are so apparent no one would guess they're related. A little later, they talk and laugh warmly in bed while sharing their views on romance and sex. What's also apparent is their dissimilarity reaching beyond physical appearances.
Elena (Roxane Mesquida) is the older of the two — beautiful, slim and stylish with the kind of forced maturity only an immature teen can possess. Her eyes are seductive and captivating, a feature she knows how to use very well. Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) is a heavier-set and frumpy twelve-year old who can't keep up with her sister's rapid development. Her endless pouty faces remind viewers she is in that in-between stage of kid and teen, displaying a child-like yearning to be loved as a woman. Her sister would much rather have the reality over the fantasy, and she foolishly believes to have found it in Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), an Italian law student.
'Fat Girl' is a somewhat disturbing film which speaks frankly on the subject of children blossoming into their bodies — the awkwardness of losing one's virginity and the dominance/submission undertones it so often entails. Elena wants her first to be full of romance with someone she loves completely, a fantasy practically ripped out of fiction. Anaïs is more forthright and contrary, preferring a total stranger she cares little for just to get the whole mess over with. When Fernando sneaks into the girls' room, they both discover there is nothing romantic about the encounter, a distressingly painful and confusing experience. Because they sleep in the same room, Anaïs is made to witness her sister's corruption and loss of innocence, which is not only physical but also spiritual and psychological since she is gullible enough to fall for the boy's hokey games of manipulation.
From French auteur Catherine Breillat, who made significant waves with the sexually explicit films 'Romance' and 'Anatomy of Hell,' what could be a tender tale about youth and maturity is actually rather severe, scathing and ultimately unpleasant. Elena is a young woman fully aware of her powers as a sexually appealing being, using them to flirt and attract the more experienced Fernando with little effort. But the child in her is so engulfed in the fantasy that love and coitus mean the same thing that she can't see the consequences of her decisions. Anaïs, on the other hand, is wise beyond her years and knows the boy's words are empty promises. And so the entire narrative is in this constant state of back and forth, two girls of two minds left on their own to determine their sexual maturity.
Breillat's intention, it seems, is to expose the confusion and discomfort associated with one's first sexual encounter — that the reality is never anything the way we imagine it to. 'Fat Girl' is a brutally honest film which amazingly grows tenser with each scene and conversation. The plot reaches its tipping point when the family drives back home — a nail-biting sequence demonstrating Breillat's skill behind the camera to create suspense out of nothing. The shocking conclusion will leave viewers with a sense of frustration and anger, forced to figure out how it relates to everything which preceded it. It's something which deserves further discussion because it feels like it serves a bigger purpose. Its lasting effects are still brooding in the back of my mind, asking questions and begging for answers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Blu-ray edition of 'Fat Girl' comes courtesy of The Criterion Collection (spine #259) on a Region A locked, BD50 disc and housed in their standard clear keepcase. Accompanying the disc is a 20-page booklet with color pictures of the film. It also features a thoughtful essay entitled "Sisters, Sex, and Sitcom" by Ginette Vincendeau, an interview excerpt with the director and Catherine Breillat's thoughts on the French vs. English titles. There are no trailers or promos before being greeted by the distributor's normal menu options, where we find the film's protagonist sitting on the beach and singing to herself.
Working from a 35mm interpositive, Criterion delivers another excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1), easily besting previous editions with better resolution and definition.
Clarity and details are superbly sharp and distinct, with terrific visibility of small background info and a beautiful film-like quality to it. We can see the small stitching of clothing in various outfits and clearly make out the smallest blemishes on actors.
Breillat's film comes with a contrast level that feels a bit restrained and gives the picture a rather dour appearance, which only adds to the serious drama. Still, it's nicely balanced and consistent from beginning to end. Blacks could probably be deeper for a newer release, but they remain deep and true throughout the entire presentation. Shadow details are first-rate, exposing many bits and pieces during the awkward, poorly-lit sequences. Colors are not all that bright or dramatic, but this is intentional to the photography where the drive is more towards realism and a natural palette. Primaries display accurate saturation, and the other hues are well-rendered.
All in all, 'Fat Girl' looks outstanding on Blu-ray.
The film comes with an interesting audio design that is striking and quietly immersive for a drama.
Rear speakers are often employed with the sounds of chirping birds and yard-work being done on the resort. This creates imaging that is amusingly realistic and enveloping, a very subtle approach for pulling the viewer into the story. Of course, this being a dialogue-driven feature, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a front-heavy presentation with clear, intelligible vocals in the center of the screen. The soundstage displays a strong presence and warmth with great balance and movement between the channels. The mid-range is clean and stable though never pushed extensively to be notable, and low bass is mostly silent throughout.
In the end, the lossless mix does splendidly in replicating the film's intentional design and sounds terrifically on Blu-ray.
Criterion carries over the same set of supplements from their previous DVD release of 2004. Unfortunately, it's a sad and wanting collection.
From controversial French auteur Catherine Breillat, 'Fat Girl' is a unique type of coming-of-age tale that's brutally honest and candid. From the perspective of two very different sisters, the plot is a fascinating portrayal on the awkwardness and clumsiness of nascent sexuality with a shocking conclusion that suggests at its banality. This Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection comes with a splendid video transfer and excellent audio presentation. Although carried over from a previous release, bonus features are quite thin and rather wanting, making this a strong package for fans of the director and the film. But others are better playing it safe with a rental, given the film's graphic subject matter.