I watched Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl a week ago. And for a week I’ve yet to shake the hold it has on me. The aftertaste of this film will be one that won’t be easily cleansed. Like raw onions. Or curry. Or a shot of whiskey...quickly chased by a shot of vodka. Or two. And, despite the heaviness this movie’s left me with, I’m not really sure if I want the flavor to go away just yet. For better or worse, we all have movies that burn themselves into our memory. Before Fat Girl, the opening sequence to Upstream Color was something I could watch once a week, if not more often. The moment the thief talks about his face being the same material of the sun...when Kris turns away, silhouetted in his sunny rays, squinting her eyes in discomfort...I still get goosebumps. And, as this is a movie blog for movie lovers, I’m sure you all echo these same feelings about many movies.
Breillat’s movie is honest from the beginning. And by honest, I mean brutal. If Thirteen is revered as a teenage coming of age story without the sugar coating...Fat Girl coats its story in battery acid and razor wire. Breillat cuts through the BS of a normal coming of age and exaggerates—to a surreal degree—the KO punch: sexuality. She precisely taps into the nuances of self hatred of adolescence, simultaneously criticizing male dominance and the insidious way it presents itself as not just acceptable, but normal. We’re so sensitively placed into the shoes of pre-teen Anais that it’s near impossible to walk away from the film without them...we end up sort of trapped in her story, forced to question what we expect from a film and what we consider transgressive material.
We as movie watchers never really get to see men’s romantic conquests as anything other than heroic. Convincing a girl to sleep with you is sort of normal in movies, and therefore life as well. Breillat mercilessly reframes this conversation through the eyes of a preteen girl. Anais isn’t really shown as a victim, necessarily, but more so a keen observer of heterosexual dynamics. We later watch her playing in the pool, explaining to an imaginary lover that she would prefer losing her virginity to someone she doesn’t know or love. It’s icey...we have these extremely cold and jaded opinions about relationships being expressed to us by a child. This, cut with long shots of Anais looking directly into the camera, begin to reshape this tale into the horror movie it really is.
*** This next part contains spoilers, so if you want to watch, do so, maybe grab a cup of chamomile tea, and keep reading ***
After a long agonizing day on the road, the three pull off at a gas station. We watch them take turns sighing, shifting in their seats, and finally falling asleep. This break was much needed for the viewer as well—Breillat knows exactly what she is doing by building and building this tension before giving us a break. She wants us to let our guard down, to feel as though maybe the worst has passed. But as Hamlet famously said, “Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.” And boy...does it get worse. Suddenly, we watch helplessly as a man breaks the windshield of the car, ax Elena in the head, strangle the mother and rape Anais. This last scene lasts maybe five minutes in total, and it feels like it’s from an entirely different film. As Anais is escorted away by policemen, we see the evidence of the attack in cool daylight. She’s wrestling away from the cops, repeating to them (and us) that she wasn’t raped. Up until this point, Breillat has conditioned us to almost disengage to the story; we’ve been sort of numb and cold to everything that has happened and this last scene just knocks you off your feet.
I struggled writing this review for a couple reasons, one being I have a hard time being this much of a bummer and asking you all to read it, and two, it’s such a masterful combination of pacing, attention to detail, and emotional intelligence that I was really intimidated to comment on it at all. This movie is so much. Sad? Sure. Beautiful? Also. Fucked up? Beyond belief. But as all of these facets (and the many more this movie has) are so purposefully crafted and expertly cutting, it’s importance is undeniable.