Fat Girl [À ma soeur!]
Director: Catherine Breillat. Cast: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero de Rienzo, Arsinée Khanjian. Screenplay: Catherine Breillat.

What starts as an unflinching and amazingly well-acted capture of pervasive misogyny and sisterly antagonism eventually impales itself, and us, on a sharp spike of concluding nihilism. Reboux stars as the "fat girl" of the translated title, and in a way, the difference between the flat nominalizing of that term and the slippery interjection of the original Ma Soeur!—which can mean, approximately, "Dedicated to my sister," "Belonging to my sister," or "My sister's turn" (as in hot potato)—is a good allegory for how the film itself transforms. The beginning is enigmatic even as it dissects with shocking frankness the sexual manipulations with which young men pressure their girlfriends and those with which sisters both preserve and violate entente with each other. The complex narrative resonances are such that you can't keep a hold on all the simultaneous developments, but they all feel scorching to the touch.

Then, Ma Soeur! becomes Fat Girl. At that point, it is no longer a film about an overweight sister whose family grossly projects their unrelated discontents onto her body, nor about a girl who is trying to stake out a philosophy on sexual behavior that jives with her own lack of suitors. Rather, Fat Girl is about an empirically grotesque figure (photographed from unflattering angles, with bits of food on her clothes and in her hair) who enters the world of sexual knowledge from the only avenue the film can conceive for her. The ironic implication that Breillat's protagonist has willed or chosen this experience verges on the repellent. The baiting of morbid audience suspicion in one direction, only to suckerpunch us from a different location altogether, seems baldly manipulative. The biggest wound on the film's integrity, though, is that the fierce but controlled subtleties of the first hour descend in the closing moments to a holistic and insolent pronouncement that the world is shit. Is that really the kind of summary statement that deserves such a bracingly confrontational build-up? A–

(in March 2002: C+)

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