Writer-director Catherine Breillat’s reputation as someone who takes an analytical scalpel to the rutting proclivities of our benighted species will surely be enhanced by Fat Girl, a cold and detailed wallow in the quagmire of adolescent sexuality.
The story centers around two sisters: the 13-year-old title character, Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux), and her 15-year-old sister, Elena (Roxane Mesquida). Elena is preternaturally attractive in a sullen, Parker Posey kind of way (the actress is actually 18, which may ease your conscience a bit) — she has to drag her schlub of a sister around as she goes looking to be picked up. The dynamic between the two is sensitively handled — the sisters alternately squabble and commune, separated by their external appearances and bound by their shared lives.
But this being a Breillat film, sisterly love-hate isn’t the main topic. The main topic is sex, something Breillat views as an opportunity for abuse, though she manages to parcel out the culpability in subtle if not quite equal measure. Almost a third of this short movie consists of a squirm-inducing set piece as Elena and her older Latin lothario (Libero de Rienzo) lie in bed and negotiate the terms of her surrender. His rapacious lust bumps up against the more cautious hunger of her romantic desire, the two speaking in two separate but overlapping languages.
But just when one feels that Breillat has handled everything with enough ambiguity to raise it above the level of polemic, she socks the viewer with a nasty shock ending, one that not only creates a dramatic rupture but casts suspicions on the creator’s motives. By tossing at the viewer a gratuitous act that would have made Andre Gide gasp, she’s fatally bloodied the waters.
Breillat may think she means to instruct, reveal, clarify and convey stark truths, but in the end, whether in the name of radical formalism or righteous rage, she means to freak us out. You’ve been warned.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.