Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: FAT GIRL

Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
May 2nd, 2011

Sometimes, it’s tough to tell what goes on behind the scenes at the Criterion Collection. While films like MISHIMA and other much hoped for DVDs (any Ozu releases, I’m looking at you) sit in their standard format just waiting to be upgraded, lesser talked about gems such as SWEETIE continue to make their way onto Blu-ray. Now, while that may in many ways sound like a critique, when it comes to films like the aforementioned SWEETIE and the newly minted Blu-ray release of the Catherine Breillat masterpiece FAT GIRL, it couldn’t be any more the opposite. Particularly when the releases are as superb as this one.

One of the more controversial members of the collection, FAT GIRL follows the story of two sisters. Elena, a beautiful 15 year old with a penchant for catching the glances of young men, and the pudgy 12 year old, Anais, who plays our film’s titular character and main lead. The two go with their family on holiday, where the former meets an attractive Italian student, and their relationship becomes the focal point for the family, as they change it forever.

A haunting look at both female childhood, as well as the nature of relationships both familial and intimate (or so it’s believed), FAT GIRL comes to us from acclaimed filmmaker Catherine Breillat (ROMANCE, ANATOMY OF HELL), and is arguably both her most beloved, and also most polarizing, film.

Anais Reboux stars as the sweet, but overweight Anais Pingot, and is truly the film’s shining star. Her performance as Anais is so utterly heartbreaking that the sound of your ticker cracking each and every moment will be audible. A tough watch, Reboux gives the film a sense of truth and heart that it otherwise would lack. It’s a very foreign touch tonally, in that most films dealing with this collection of themes lack this depth of emotion and reality, instead going for shock or overtly cartoonish angst and sexuality. A very matter of fact watch, Reboux’s performance thrusts the film into the depths of something like a Ken Loach film, if Loach had a penchant for dealing with female sexuality, and its relationship with the opposite sex, as Breillat has throughout her career.

Roxane Mesquida co-stars as Elena Pingot, Anais’ sister, and gives her own interesting bit of depth to the film. A relatively great performance, and an equally nuanced and emotionally resonant one, Mesquida’s Elena is ultimately the one whose corruption unfolds the narrative. With her dreams of sexual grandeur opposing her younger sister’s neo-nihilistic thoughts of sex (particularly the idea of popping your proverbial cherry to a person who you don’t have an emotional connection to being the ideal situation), the two’s relationship begins to take its toll, as Fernando (played wonderfully by Libero De Rienzo) is tossed in. With eyes wide and bright, Elena simply wants to start learning about intimacy and experimenting with her new main squeeze, but ultimately has her younger sibling looking on, changing the game. This interchange between siblings, and also between lovers and members of the opposite sex, is the main theme behind the powerful look at sexual value.

Far from the most controversial film Breillat has ever made, FAT GIRL may in fact be the French auteur’s strongest film. A muted pallet, the film’s visual style matches the blunt nature of both the film’s narrative, as well as its direction. Not one to pull punches either plot-wise or visually, Breillat thrusts the viewer into this world, and never quite lets one come up for air. Very much inspired by films from the likes of Ken Loach or even Pier Paolo Pasolini (whose SALO: OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM Criterion Collection release features an interview with Breillat), she blends the idea of a neo-realist feature with Pasolini’s idea of sexuality as ultimately violent and oppressive so brilliantly, that FAT GIRL may be one of the tougher watches within the Criterion Collection.

That, in and of itself, may be the toughest aspect of this film - the actual viewing experience. Intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking, FAT GIRL is a brilliantly acted and gorgeously crafted film, whose look at sexuality as violence is striking. However, it’s also a blunt instrument being blasted into the side of your brain, and some of what is on screen can truly be seen as nothing but audience exploitation. Not everyone’s cup of tea, the film’s ending, one of the most controversial (if not the most) within the collection, only heightens what may ultimately seem as a fruitless endeavor for some. However, clocking in at just under 90 minutes, not only is the film a relatively brisk watch, but it’s also one of the most thought-provoking that the collection has to offer.

And then there is the upgrade.

Bringing over the supplements from the previous release, the wonderful release features a pair of interviews with Breillat (one after the film’s 2001 Berlinale premiere, and one later on looking at the film’s creation and “alternate ending), trailers, and also some really interesting behind-the-scenes footage, this release’s strong suit is in its audio and visual upgrade. Featuring a crisp audio track, the film’s visuals look absolutely top notch. While there are definitely some, well, striking, images to be seen within this film (those who have seen it know exactly what I’m hesitant to refer to) the film’s overall style and aesthetic really become enhanced when placed into your Blu-ray player.

Not one of this writer’s first requests to be upgraded, it is a shockingly superb release that will sit perfectly next to any recent Criterion Blu-ray on a shelf. It’s a polarizing film that may not be for everyone, but if you go into it with an open mind, this is a film that you won’t be able to soon forget.

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