Duration in Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl, some musings

In Breillat’s Fat Girl, 15-year-old Elena is both mentally and physically raped by early 20-something Fernando. The mental rape which takes about 25 minutes to unravel, is the “real rape” Breillat says, as opposed to the sexual assault the younger sister Anaïs receives at the hands of the murderer at the end of the film. Why Breillat chose to spend 25 minutes playing out the first sex/rape scene becomes quite clear as we replay the dialogue and listen to Fernando’s sophistry, practicing his lawyer’s speech because in just a few short years, after he finishes college, he aspires toward that profession. His coercion and utter disregard for Elena, who has conflicted interests in sex at this point – she is still a virgin – reveal something, Breillat wanted to show us, about power dynamics and men generally.

Elena is in her nightgown, pulled up across her chest, pubic hair exposed; Fernando is without pants, visibly aroused. Their argument centers on his demand for that arousal to be quenched and although she subtly refuses, Elena never quite says no. But it is quite obvious she would rather not, and turns her back to him. So, he rapes her anally without force and without physical resistance on her part. From her agonizing moans, and lack of consent, she certainly does not like it.

Of significance in Fernando’s and Elena’s tug of war, their battle of wills, is the use of ultimatum and threat. While arguing that sex is now a necessity (his pulsing member couldn’t be needier), and Elena’s repeated refusal through tears, Fernando rhetorically asks whether he should just go jerk off into the garbage over there. He definitely should not he says; that’s gross. He then tries to threaten with leaving her, going to find another girl that night (he’s a handsome Italian stud), and following from such a threat we can guess, never see her again.

What’s unique about this scene in Fat Girl is the perspective we get as viewers. It isn’t a simple objective frame, but across the room unfortunately is Elena’s younger sister Anaïs, told to pretend she is asleep.  The sex/rape plays out before both our eyes and Anaïs. During Fernando’s coercion we get two cuts over to Anaïs watching this all unfold. Anaïs, although younger, gets the better look on just what this love entails – she told her sister earlier not to fall for his rouse and will warn her later in the film when he gives her (from the depths of his heart!) an engagement ring more or less in exchange for her virginity.

Viewing this scene, Fernando’s macho behaviour and coercion, we come to despise him. We hate his words, his treatment and disrespect for Elena. This is why the scene is so long, and this, according to audience research, is the scene people most identify with – both as males who’ve played this same horrible game, and females who unfortunately experienced it.

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