Article published in Trent University’s Arthur Student Newspaper: http://trentarthur.ca/trent-film-society-presents-catherine-breillats-fat-girl/
Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl (A ma soeur!, 2001), underwent a scourge of negative reviews
upon its release. Critics and spectators dismissed its shocking images and finale
which, on cursory glance, seemed to have little to do with the story up to that point. Film
scholars have made much more of it, noting the affective charge of film, its structural
and stylistic brilliance, and even its very subtle historical and political critique. For our
purposes as curators of a series of fictional films on adolescent sexuality, without precisely
neglecting Fat Girl’s merits as a work of art—inseparable as it is from what interests
us—the affective charge and response of the audience is most valuable as a critical tool to
evaluate and theorize film(s).
Certainly Fat Girl is disturbing and a cause of discomfort. Two of the longest scenes
has Anaïs, the 12-year-old sister of three years older Elena, witness the latter’s initiations
into sexual intercourse. As spectators we too come too close in contact with Elena and
Fernando, an older college student she has seduced while on a family vacation. Further,
when Anaïs’ prophetic statement at the beginning of the film is realized, namely her wish
to lose her virginity in an emotionless embrace, we are appalled by her apparent indifference
bordering on satisfaction. But the film’s ending of sexual violence registered less
with viewers as the prior shock.
In Martin Barker’s research on Fat Girl, personal identification was noted as a psychological
conflict: female spectators understood Elena’s fragility and weakness, with her innocence
so easily stolen by a handsome older man who knew how to say the right words,
and male spectators saw themselves in Fernando and his sophistry. According to Barker’s
research, identification calls us to attention, forces us to look at images that frighten, disturb
and remind us of our own sexual experiences.