For French filmmaker Catherine Breillat, relations between men and women are as dangerous as a minefield, and she observes them with a rigorous detachment tempered by a reticent compassion and flashes of spiky humor. She has revealed a fascination with all-consuming passion throughout her 25-year career. Her latest film, "Fat Girl," more felicitously titled " ma Soeur!" (To My Sister) in French, recalls her third feature, "36 Fillette," in that it also centers on a girl determined to lose her virginity without losing her heart.
The girl here, Anas (Anas Reboux), is only 12 and is overweight. Her self-absorbed parents (Arsinee Khanjian and Romain Goupil) expect her to tag along with her older sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida), a slim 15-year-old beauty who understandably resents her younger sister's too-constant presence at the rather bleak seaside resort where they are vacationing. Brighter than Elena, Anas' is actually stronger, more resilient and tough-minded than she realizes, because of her unhappy outsider status. She may have her own dreams of romance, but she has decided that the man who in due time is to deflower her is to be of no significance to her: She doesn't want to give him any sense of importance. Her views, when expressed to Elena, fall on deaf ears. Indeed, from early on, much of the film is taken up with Elena's flirtation with a good-looking Italian law student, Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), in his early 20s and also on vacation. Fernando is as smooth as glass while Elena fakes a sophistication she scarcely possesses, and Breillat observes the assured stages of his totally focused seduction with fascination. Patient, tender, as persuasive as he is persistent, Fernando is remorseless in breaking down Elena's defenses.
He may care for her, at least at the moment, but of course she loses her head over him. The ultimate consequences of their affair come shockingly out of left field, but upon reflection it's possible to see plenty of foreshadowing even if it's impossible to predict the actual turn of events. The always formidable Laura Betti, known best for her appearances in the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, has a terrific scene as Fernando's shrewd, no-nonsense mother.
Part of that foreshadowing has to do with the parents' basic lack of interest in their daughters until they either are bothered by them or their bourgeois sense of propriety is offended.
Despite Elena's frequent cruel treatment of Anas, which she intersperses with acts of kindness, the girls have bonded fiercely, for the only love they receive is from each other. They have become remarkably self-aware, candid and articulate about how their feelings for each other seesaw between love and hate.
The film's concluding sequence is bound to polarize audiences between those who insist that it has nothing to do with anything that has gone before and those who view it as an enlarging of themes and concerns that Breillat has been probing from the beginning in regard to humanity's darker urges, coupled with the perversity of fate.
Anas, however, has been learning all along about the importance of an unyielding pride and a steely self-reliance in a brutal, capricious universe.
Unrated. Times guidelines: much nudity, fairly graphic sex, blunt language, violence and adult themes. Totally unsuitable for children.
Anias Reboux: Anas
Roxane Mesquida: Elena
Libero De Rienzo: Fernando
Laura Betti: Fernando's Mother
A Cowboy Booking International release for Code Red of a Jean-Francois Lepetit presentation of a Flach Film-CB Films production; a Franco-Italian co-production: Flach Film/CB Films/Arte France Cinema and Immagine & Cinema/Urania. Writer-director Catherine Breillat. Cinematographer Yorgoa Arvanitis. Editor Pascale Chavance. Costumes Catherine Meillan. Art director Francois Renaud Labarthe. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Exclusively at the Westside Pavilion Cinemas, 10800 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 475-0202; the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the University, Campus Drive opposite UC Irvine, (949) 854-8811.