04 April 2009

The Decade List: À ma sœur! (2001)

À ma sœur! [Fat Girl] - dir. Catherine Breillat

My legacy with Fat Girl is a long, tumultuous one. I first saw it at the 2001 Saint Louis International Film Festival; I was alone, though I ran into a coworker who brought his girlfriend. I still haven't figured out why they were there, unless they'd seen Romance and hoped for another dose of explicit sexuality, but I did notice them dozing off at multiple points in the film. Well, I walked out of the film dazed and smitten, so much so that I brought an entire group of my high school friends along with me when the film made its theatrical run a couple of months later. They shared my enthusiasm for the film, but it wasn't until a few years later that the very mention of Fat Girl would create friction between the people I knew in a way no other film previously had.

My friend Dan was a member of Loyola Chicago's Cinema Club, and they had dedicated a month to female filmmakers. As a big admirer of the film, Dan suggested Fat Girl, and that suggestion didn't go over well. One girl in the club claimed the film was, quite simply, "a movie about a girl who likes getting raped." This spread, particularly among those individuals the girl was recruiting for her side of the argument (many of which hadn't even seen it). On a car ride to Chicago, Dan confessed that our mutual friend Mary had joined the side of this girl, which I found to be outrageous. Drunkenly, after seeing The Boredoms play a show, I brought this up to Mary, and thus began a strange feud in which I annoyingly attempted to defend the film at every given (er, inappropriate) moment, even after I was given strict instruction not to mention anything about Breillat, fat girls or rape. Years later, our friendship mended, but to this day I still get an "Oh, God" from those near the tussle when the subject is brought up.

I may have worn out my defense for Fat Girl during those years, as re-watching it kind of left me stunned yet again. While I think my claim that Fat Girl is as important of a film as Truffaut's The 400 Blows in regards to films about youth, I found myself without defense when that scene occurs. Not the scene the girl in the film club was so opposed to (which is unbelievably edited out of the UK DVD), but the one that proceeds it. Was that just a way to REALLY drive the message home? Though I applaud the fact that Breillat doesn't hold back her feelings, I, for once, didn't know what to say to my friend who found it cheap and callous. Breillat works similarly to Claire Denis in Trouble Every Day by building toward the scene with subtlety, although Breillat does create some unshakable tension with all the stunt driving that happens right before. I thought I'd be able to rationalize it before writing about it, but I guess not.

So "shocks" aside, Fat Girl is breathtaking. Its honesty and complexity in dealing with both the budding sexuality of teenage girls and their relationship with one another are unmatchable. Fat Girl stands as Breillat's finest example thusfar of seamlessly melding theory and story together, which had mixed results in Romance and which wasn't even attempted in Anatomy of Hell [Anatomie de l'enfer]. In many ways, Fat Girl changed cinema for me, and maybe I've exhausted myself in defending its honor (Breillat's most famous quote states, "all great artists are hated"). So forgive me for having nothing fresh or of value to say about one of the decade's most memorable, and best, films.

With: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo, Arsinée Khanjian, Romain Goupil, Laura Betti
Screenplay: Catherine Breillat
Cinematography: Giorgos Arvanitis
Country of Origin: France/Italy
US Distributor: Cowboy Booking/Criterion/Janus Films

Premiere: 10 February 2001 (Berlin International Film Festival)
US Premiere: September 2001 (Telluride Film Festival)

Awards: Manfred Salzgeber Award (Berlin International Film Festival); French Cineaste of the Year (Cannes Film Festival); Golden Hugo for Best Film (Chicago International Film Festival)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was just taught this film by Ginette Vincendeau...

not to brag or anything...

Joe said...

Bragging is encouraged here. Hopefully I'll get around to a better dissection of the film by the end of the year.