Reviews

The 'Fat Girl' Gets the Last Laugh

Despite the harsh sex scenes, accusations of pornography and infamous finalé, Fat Girl may be Catherine Breillat's most accessible film.


Fat Girl

Director: Catherine Breillat
Cast: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero de Rienzo
Distributor: Criterion
Release date: 2011-05-03

Remembered mostly for its infamous sex scene, complaints of child pornography and its shocking finale, Fat Girl is actually Catherine Breillat’s most sensitive, accessible work. Within its grotesque structure, the provocative filmmaker finds a realistic look at sibling relationships and sexual awakening.

When the film begins, we meet Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) an obese, precocious, 13-year-old. In the best fairy tale tradition, she walks through the woods with her classically beautiful sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida) who’s 15. The sisters discuss sex. Elena, who has done everything but actual penetration, still talks about meeting someone special to whom she can give her virginity. Anaïs looks at her contemptuously, calls her a slut and then confesses she would never lose her virginity with someone she loved. Instead she would rather lose it to a total stranger, who then would have no rights over her.

The conversation’s matter-of-fact-ness makes it endearing in a way, as you might roll your eyes and think these girls have no idea what they’re talking about. Breillat however will make sure both of them get what they asked for before the movie ends.

The girls go to a café where they meet Italian college student Fernando (Libero de Rienzo), who’s vacationing in the same region they are. Elena begins an affair with him (the seduction is embarrassingly awkward), Anaïs watches from across the table as she gorges on a banana split. Breillat, who is most certainly not the subtlest filmmaker out there, immediately lets us know that the girls are aware of the kind of phalluses they can get. While Elena naively flirts with Fernando, Anaïs, distances herself from the situation and seems to obtain the utmost pleasure from her banana.

Food is obviously a recurrent theme in a movie called Fat Girl, but Anaïs’ relationship with eating goes beyond stereotypical “eat your feelings” notions. Instead, we see her develop something that resembles her sexual intentions. Throughout the movie we see her constantly eating phallic shaped foods. Breillat cleverly represents her emotional arc and scene after scene, Anaïs’ eating becomes more symbolic. From the banana she enjoys with almost childish delight, she goes to chewy snacks she munches down carelessly. These snacks come around the time when she sees her sister fall prey to Fernando. She devours them with relentless anger, as if letting men of the world know, she won’t put up with their crap when the time comes.

In one of the film’s most moving sequences, Anaïs cries after her sister hits her. She sits down on the breakfast table and begins to sob, to the discontentment of her parents. Elena sits next to her, grabs a long piece of bread and begins to feed her sister. It’s this symbiosis which makes us understand that beyond their differences, these two girls are bonded for life.

Viewers might recognize themselves in the discussions the sisters take part in. Most seem meaningless and trivial but actually encompass a relationship that’s scarily real in its sincerity. “Nobody would think we were sisters” says Elena to Anaïs, as they examine each other in front of a mirror. This sequence recalls Ingmar Bergman’s work in how eventually we do see the similarities between them. “When I hate you I look at you and then I can’t” replies Anaïs, obviously damaged but trying to show her sister how much she loves her.

When in a different moment we see them lying together in bed, giggling at stories about how much they resent each other and probably always will, Breillat taps into something primal and beautiful. Their scenes together take on an even more complex level when Elena has sex with Fernando. Since they share a room, Anaïs is always present when Elena sneaks Fernando in, and their bed scenes are always shown from the younger sister’s perspective. She’s either the watcher or an uncomfortable element in the frame.

Fernando’s seduction is almost ridiculous in its affectedness. “I respect you” he says to the vulnerable Elena before asking her to have anal sex. He makes her believe that losing her virginity to him will be the ultimate act of love and Elena, despite her better knowledge, falls for this.

In the Blu-ray’s bonus materials (which are few for a Criterion release), there’s an interview with Breillat who affirms that by now, our society should know better than to fall in love, for doing it only forces us to reach ideals we never will accomplish. “We have to be lucid but not cynical” she says and we can see this belief in the way that Elena stares lovingly at Fernando. For all she knows, this affair won’t survive past the vacation, however when he tells her he’ll come visit her in Paris, for a second, she starts believing this.

Mesquida’s cruelly shy performance allows Elena to recur to some sort of pride that makes her believe she will be the one to catch Fernando. She doesn’t, and when the time to leave is near, both sisters close their holiday with a sense of loss and forced maturity. “Vacations suck” says Anaïs before the film takes on its most terrible twist yet.

The film’s ending might be the most brutal sexual scene ever filmed. Some might view it as rape, when in fact we realize that it’s just the thing Anaïs wanted. When she gives one final stare at the camera, which freezes like Antoine Doinel’s iconic shot in The 400 Blows, Breillat winks at us in an almost confrontational way.

Should we feel happy or horrified by what happens? The director subverts our ideas of sexual empowerment and turns Anaïs into an unlikely heroine that took her sexuality in her own hands, caring little about how her desires manifested affect those around her. It’s a cruel move, but there’s no denying that Anaïs gets the last laugh.

9

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image