Though in my last post I talked about the cumbersome baggage I’m lugging around, this post is about the film, Fat Girl, not myself.
Catherine Breillat is my favorite director. This week I’m devouring her films, some for the first time (Fat Girl, Bluebeard (now streaming on Netflix)), some all over again (The Last Mistress, Anatomy of Hell). Breillat’s films are always explicit yet surreptitious. Natural yet philosophical. Audacious. Feminist. Perverse. Delicious. Exceedingly gorgeous. And oh so French.
Fat Girl is a story about the relationship between the sharp and hungry Anaïs and her sister, belle du jour, Elena. Anaïs is thirteen, Elena is fifteen. Both are coming into their bodies and trying to understand their sexuality: what it is, how it works, where it should be directed, exposed, displayed, or hidden. Elena falls in love with Fernando, an Italian college student; though, when we meet him, the way the camera angles, the tone of the movie, conventional hopes and tropes dictate that he’ll pursue Anaïs, snubbing the sometimes cruel Elena. Expectations thwarted.
There will be spoilers. You are now officially warned.
One of the things I love about Breillat is that she finds poetry in the ordinary. She’s not afraid to keep the camera, the scene, the characters rolling. Fernando sneaks into Elena and Anaïs’ room. Anaïs pretends to be asleep. From an ignored corner, through her eyes we watch Fernando persuade Elena to give up her virginity. She’s visibly reticent, afraid, and uneasy. As are we. His rapey persistence masquerades as love until finally Elena gives into anal sex, which doesn’t really count everybody’s doing it and besides it’s an act of love. By the time he inserts himself and Elena gives us a couple of anguished cries, I’m twisted and nauseated.
Anaïs’ powerful, beautiful sister has been reduced. Like a charcoal drawing of Icarus falling (to borrow from Swamplandia! (the current book I’m reading)). Anaïs knows this, and behind the typical veil of proscribed passion, I get the feeling Elena does to, or maybe I’m just hoping. But while I hope, Anaïs cries.
The sincere and authentic emotions come from the concealed sleeping girl. (We’ll see later, in Sleeping Beauty, Breillat explores these themes again.)
To the film’s credit, nothing happens to Anaïs. But still, in spite or because of, she is our princess. Boredom is her power. She sings, I get so bored It’s not over yet, swimming back and forth from the pool’s diving board to the ladder, pretending each was her lover. Still curious, still hungry, this fantasy isn’t at all like what happened to Elena. Here, Anaïs is in control. When her lovers become jealous she says, “Women aren’t like bars of soap, you know. They don’t wear away. On the contrary, each lover brings them more, and you get all the benefit.”
But then the ladder says, “You make me sick. How can you disgust me and attract me so much? You’re the one I’ll give it all to.”
Elena’s insecurity comes from being an exchangeable, ordinary body. Anaïs knows her power comes from her body, the same body that renders her invisible, that allows her to watch, to take it all in. This isn’t the body that will be taken down by a boy. She knows a fuck is a fuck. Wise for a thirteen year old. Wiser than her sister. Losing your virginity shouldn’t be about love, and certainly shouldn’t be about forever.
Fernando does end up getting Elena’s virginity. In exchange he gives her his mother’s opal ring, who later comes to the door demanding it back. Pissed, the girls’ mother ends the vacation. They start the long journey home. Everything changes. The mood is grim, sad, foreboding. Elena is crying. Anaïs is whining. The mother, as always, completely ineffectual, is smoking, says, “Your father wants to have you examined.” WTF? To see if she’s still a virgin? Just to make sure she isn’t pregnant? Oh, don’t get me started on the Western father fetishizing his daughter’s purity. UGH.
Speaking of breaking the fourth wall, I love how lecherous these girls are. I’ve never before seen teen sexuality depicted so candidly and honest. I could never imagine an American film with such bravado. Most of our texts pander to the masses, who are (oh so unfortunately) prude sheep, heads buried in the sand, gums flapping all the same.
Much like Elena and Anaïs’ mother who zags in and out of lanes. We already know she hates driving, and also that she’s the type of person who, instead of moving to safety, prefers to pull the covers over her head and clamp her eyes shut, as though sleep will protect her from the storm. She can’t take it anymore. She pulls over to a rest stop to sleep. Bad idea! The tone isn’t right. Something awful is going to happen. Elena gets out to go the bathroom. Alone. TERRIBLE IDEA! But she safely returns and they all go to sleep. My terror subsides and I realize, Breillat wants you to be terrified. The terrain of female sexuality is dangerous. It isn’t all jealous diving boards and mooning ladders, or even douchey law students. You never know when an axe murderer will suddenly charge at you, shatter the windshield, smash your sister’s skull, fondle your mother, then strange her to death before raping you in the forest.
BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS.
Except during the rape, with her panties in her mouth, Anaïs locks eyes with him, and then they share a moment. She participates. The axe murderer is confused. Off screen, he lets her live. In the next and last scene Anaïs is escorted by the police, telling them she wasn’t raped, and she didn’t care if they believed her or not.
This ending is so unexpected, so brutal and hideous, that you long for something to make sense. Then you remember all those times Anaïs warned Elena to leave love out of losing her virginity, to do it with nobody so you can go on living, so you can go on to love. As this rapist takes Anaïs’ virginity, she looks him in the face, daring him to kill her (because, as she sang earlier, even long after death she’ll still be bored), but also, telling him, that he isn’t taking and she isn’t passively taking it either. This is her fucking show. Go away so she can finally experience it.
😀 This is one of my all time favorite movies. The ending is brilliant! I actually own the fucker on DVD. (like a luddite.) You know “Anatomy of Hell” was all Duras, yeah? A very short novella called “The Malady of Death.”
I didn’t know that. I’ve only read The Ravishing of Lol Stein and The Lover, and I think I even own The Malady of Death…I’ll have to read it before I revisit Anatomy of Hell. Thanks for telling me! I LOVE Duras.
And yeah, that ending is brilliant.