Friday, September 21, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: Fat Girl

Written and directed by Catherine Breillat, A ma soeur! (Fat Girl) is the story of a twelve-year old girl who is on vacation with her family including her 15-year old sister who falls for an Italian law student leading to a corruption of innocence. The film is a coming-of-age story that revolves on a young girl who deals with her looks as well as her older sister’s beauty just as she watches her sister’s loss of innocence. Starring Anais Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero de Rienzo, Arsinee Khanjian, Romain Goupil, and Laura Betti. A ma soeur! is an eerie and mesmerizing film from Catherine Breillat.

The film revolves around a couple of sisters vacationing where the eldest meets an Italian law student as she would lose her virginity to him thinking its love while her younger sister deals with what she sees and the corruption it would bring. It’s a film with a simple and minimalist premise as it mainly takes place in the span of a few days as it’s really about the relationship of two sisters who don’t really look like each other as the 15-year old Elena (Roxane Mesquida) is thin and beautiful while the 12-year old Anais (Anais Reboux) is fat and insecure. Catherine Breillat’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot as it’s more about Anais’ fascination with her older sister’s interest towards sex upon meeting the Italian law student Fernando (Libero de Rienzo) who charms Elena and her parents (Arsinee Khanjian and Romain Goupil). Upon visiting her later that night, the two engage in sexual activity much to Elena’s reluctance with Anais watching with discomfort and intrigue. Notably as the relationship becomes troubling with Anais feeling disconnected from Elena as well as some moments that would play into the dissolution of the relationship.

Breillat’s direction is intoxicating for the compositions she creates in the film as well as aiming for something simple and to the point in her approach to the story. Shot on locations in France at small towns such as La Palmyre for the beach scenes and Les Maithes for the resident scenes along with some interior shots at a studio at Arpajon. Breillat does use wide shots of these locations to play into the sense of boredom Anais and Elena endure during the vacation as well as these moments such as the woods that would be important in their idea of love. The attraction between Elena and Fernando is immediate but Elena’s idea of sex and losing her virginity is seen from something that feels innocent but Anais who would watch their first sexual encounter in her bed in the same room doesn’t see it that way. Especially as Fernando would coerce Elena into ideas about willing to do things for him as an act of love.

For Anais, seeing her sister falling for Fernando is troubling just as she starts to deal with her own physicality such as a scene looking at herself in the mirror exposing her breasts. It’s a scene that is disturbing considering that Anais is underage while Elena is 15 years old though she’s only one year away from being legal (in Europe) as it is equally as disturbing that she wants to lose her virginity to a law student in his 20s who would trick her into having sex thinking she would marry him later on. Instead, things get troubling as it relates to the fact that the vacation was cut short because Elena and Anais’ father had to leave vacation for business and later other things that would impact the vacation altogether during an appearance from Fernando’s mother (Laura Betti). Breillat would create these intricate compositions that play into the drama including a second sex scene that is shown from Anais’ perspective as she is seen in the foreground while Elena and Fernando are in the background. Even as it play into this idea of a loss of innocence that would come to ahead in the film’s final moments which play into a graphic scene of violence. Overall, Breillat creates a riveting yet unsettling film about two sisters and their loss of innocence in their encounter towards sex.

Cinematographer Yorgos Arvanitis does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is low-key in its approach to colors for many of the film’s exteriors along with the look of the interiors including the film’s two major sex scenes. Editor Pascale Chavance does amazing work with the editing as it is straightforward with some jump-cuts in a few scenes that don’t require long shots in some of the big dramatic moments. Production designer Francois Renaud Labarthe, with set decorators Cecilia Blom, Fabienne David, Christophe Graziani, Fabrice Heraud, Gerald Lemaire, Jean-Luc Molle, and Yann Richard, does fantastic work with the look of the bedroom that Elena and Anais share as well as a few other interiors at the house.

Costume designers Ann Dunsford and Catherine Meillan do terrific work with the costumes from the stylish and skinnier look that Elena wears to the more casual look of Anais. The sound work of Jean Minondo is superb for its natural approach to the sound in the way a location sounds as well as music that played on a radio. The film’s soundtrack largely consists of diegetic music that is either played on location or through a score by Breillat that is played in a couple of scenes with music from Laura Betti, Tavernanova, and David Bowie.

The casting by Fabrice Bigot, Gilles Cannatella, Olivier Carbone, Nicolas Lubin, and Michael Weill is wonderful as it feature a few notable small roles from Laura Betti as Fernando’s mother, Albert Goldberg as a mysterious man at a rest stop, Romain Goupil as Elena and Anais’ father, and Arsinee Khanjian as Elena and Anais’ mother. Libero De Rienzo is excellent as Fernando as a charming law student who falls for Elena as he convinces her to engage in anal and oral sex as a way to give her this idea of what love is. Roxane Mesquida is amazing as Elena as a 15-year old girl who falls for Fernando thinking it would give her this idea of love and sex only to realize that it’s actually complicated and filled with a lot of demands she’s too immature to understand. Finally, there’s Anais Reboux in an incredible performance as Anais as a 12-year old girl who is fascinated by the idea of sex despite her own issues with her appearance as she also becomes fascinated but also disgusted by what Fernando and Elena does as it adds to her own sense of despair as well as feeling disconnected from her sister.

A ma soeur! is a phenomenal film from Catherine Breillat. Featuring a great cast, mesmerizing visuals, and a disturbing story of the ideas of sex and love. It’s a film that is definitely not for everyone as it play into the idea of girls dealing with their own image as well as the expectations of love and sex that is filled with complexities they’re unprepared to understand as well as an ending that is visceral in its delivery. In the end, A ma soeur! is a tremendous film from Catherine Breillat.

Catherine Breillat Films: (A Real Young Girl) – (36 Fillette) – Romance - (Brief Crossing) – (Sex is Comedy) – (Anatomy of Hell) – (The Last Mistress) – (Bluebeard (2009 film)) – (La belle endormie) – (Abuse of Weakness)

© thevoid99 2018


Brittani Burnham said...

I remember seeing the director talk about this film on IFC's Indie Sex documentaries, but I never got around to watching it myself. It is something I'd eventually like to watch. Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Thanks. I'm glad someone else here remembered those documentaries. I miss the old IFC programming when they showed interesting films and stuff related to film. I got my cinema education through that channel and the Sundance Channel before they were bought by AMC and became crap.

Dell said...

I remember hearing about this a while back, but never got around to seeing it. Sounds like I should.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-It is an interesting film although it might be a little extreme for you. Catherine Breillat is not for everyone as she's known for making films involving sex that are controversial, provocative, and intense. One film I haven't seen but I have heard of in Anatomy of Hell is about a gay man being forced to have sex with a woman and he is freaked out by the idea of having sex with a woman. I saw bits of it in one of those old docs Brittani mentioned and yes, a woman's vagina might be too much for some to take. I'm just going to warn you about what you're going to dive into if you're planning on seeing this film or anything by Breillat.

Dell said...

Thanks for the warning, but I think I can handle it.