I can always rely upon The Criterion Collection to consistently release great films I’ve never heard of, from things like the bizarre and hilarious series Fishing With John to the dark and disturbing Fat Girl. The latter, which came out on DVD earlier this month, is one of the strangest, most shocking and thought-provoking films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s the kind of story that once you’ve seen it, you’ll have a hard time ridding yourself of some of its imagery–not to mention the philosophical and psychological questions it raises.
On its surface, Fat Girl, by French director Catherine Breillat, is about a pair of sisters vacationing with their parents in a quiet seaside town. One is a teenage beauty, the other is overweight and plain. When the former allows herself to be seduced by a charming Italian law student, a series of events is set into motion which permanently and tragically transforms the sisters’ lives.
In this film, Breillat, whose work often focuses on sexuality and gender issues, explores the exploitative and sometimes violent side of male-female relationships through the lens of the pair of young teenage girls. Despite being sparely shot and acted–lending the whole thing equal parts hyper-reality and dreamlike haziness–Fat Girl never lags for a moment. Indeed, it ratchets up the tension in its sinister final act to thriller levels, with a shocking twist that turns the whole story on its ear.
Fat Girl is not the kind of movie you’ll find at your local multiplex (and indeed, its subject matter is definitely not for everyone) but it’s just the kind of thing Criterion does best–an intelligent, well-crafted film that you might otherwise never see.