Fat Girl (French)

A friend of mine who saw “Fat Girl” before I did astutely noted that it’s not the sort of film one “enjoys” watching. You might admire many things about it, and it can properly be called a very good movie, but it’s not one you’ll want to hurry out and see again.

I’m not sure I admire it as much as my friend did, nor as much as writer/director Catherine Breillat wants me to. She has a lot of interesting things to say about sexuality, and about sexual fantasies among adolescents, but I can’t help feeling like much of the shock in “Fat Girl” is there for its own sake, and not because the story required it. You can practically taste Breillat’s self-satisfaction in some places, as if she just KNEW she was creating a masterpiece.

The titular fat girl is Anais (Anais Reboux), a bored and sad 12-year-old whose family is vacationing at a French seaside resort. Her 15-year-old sexpot sister Elena (Roxanne Mesquida) has some Clinton-esque definitions of what does and doesn’t constitute sex, and as a result considers herself still a virgin. She plans to keep it that way, too, while her chubby sister wants to lose her virginity as soon as possible, if it’s possible at all.

Elena meets Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), a college student also vacationing by the sea, who flatters her with professions of love, aimed primarily at getting her to give it up — which she does, eventually, declaring she loves him, too. Their rendezvous takes place in Elena’s bedroom, which she shares with Anais, who is furiously jealous and embarrassingly titillated to be witnessing it.

Elena torments Anais about her weight, but Breillat gives them a few notable scenes of genuine sisterly affection, too, admirably portraying the love-hate relationship that often exists among siblings. They discuss virginity, and the drastic consequences of losing it, and their varying attitudes: Elena wants it to be with someone she loves, while Anais very specifically wants it to be with a stranger, to get it over with so she can start looking for real love. To what extent either of them gets her wish is the movie’s primary order of business.

There is a shocking conclusion that, yes, made me gasp and stare at the screen with my jaw on the floor. It’s unsettling — not in a queasy, gory, close-your-eyes kind of way, but in a way that makes you think far more about the movie’s ideas than you want to. That is, of course, a sign of good filmmaking, not bad, but I suspect Breillat felt she had such a great statement to make that she neglected to flesh out the rest of the film. Even at a scant 83 minutes, it feels padded. (OK, you’re driving home and Mom’s not a very good driver. WE GET IT.)

The performances are uniformly brave and real and to be commended. Few Hollywood child actors could pull off anything close to what Reboux and Mesquida achieve (nor would U.S. laws allow it: Both have nude scenes). Whether it is worth dealing with the film’s subject matter to experience those performances will vary from one audience member to the next.

B (1 hr., 23 min.; R, graphic nudity and sexuality, some profanity, some strong violence.)