Friday, November 16, 2001

The Ontario Film Review Board has brightened my weekend by slapping a ban on “Fat Girl.” Opening today at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle in our own liberated community, this is the latest atrocity from the French porno-brutalist Catherine Breillat, who evidently relishes an infamous reputation. Her last feature was the ironically titled “Romance,” which allegedly explored female sexual hunger at its most primal while hanging out with a nympho schoolteacher who spent an eternity or so in bondage outfits and postures, humoring a school principal of her acquaintance.
Despite its obvious potential as a naughty French sideshow at teachers conventions, “Romance” is insufferably dull and coarse-minded. Stooping lower yet, “Fat Girl” exploits a couple of adolescent actresses, Anais Reboux and Roane Mesquida, as contrasting sisters and jailbait: a pudgy 13-year-old named Anais and a sleek 15-year-old named Elena.
We encounter them during an unsavory summer vacation in Brittany. Elena consorts semisecretly with a college-age Italian student named Fernando (Libero de Rienzo). Their sexual encounters are witnessed by Anais, who shares a bedroom with her precocious sibling. We, of course, are relegated to the role of invisible, reluctant voyeurs.
In fact, there are back-to-back nocturnal peep shows, confined to soft-core depiction in a technical sense but candidly lewd and intrusive and ultimately dependent on nude images of the girls for pictorial novelty and titillation.
The liaison is discovered by the girls’ mother (Arsinee Khanjian), essentially a token character until that point. (The token father, played by Romain Goupil, gets his walking papers earlier in order to facilitate the filmmaker’s eventual shock effects.) Furious, mama packs the girls in the car and drives back to Paris, fuming all the way.
The circumstances of the disclosure are arbitrary. It would make some sense if Anais talked out of turn, given her resentment of Elena and the humiliation of being expected to stare mutely while Elena goes through a carnal initiation.
Nothing that wretched but dramatic interests Miss Breillat, a cutthroat who bides her time in order to conclude the movie with sucker punches of her own. I’m sorry if this upsets people who think every surprise twist in a movie is sacrosanct, but the Breillat payoff involves confronting the women with a homicidal monster, who polishes off the show with sudden acts of murder and sexual assault. And a top of the morning to you too, Catherine Breillat, moral leper.
The Ontario board’s hostility naturally has caused shock and consternation from the movie’s distributors, who complain that several pictures that could be cited for comparable indecencies Larry Clark’s “Kids” and “Bully” and the Oscar-winning “American Beauty” got off without a slap on the wrist.
This recalls the way youngsters squawk when an offense ignored at some earlier date gets punished the next time around. True, absolute justice tends to elude the enforcers, but every so often, you kind of want to make a point and say, emphatically, “Knock it off.”
With the possible exception of Larry Clark, no filmmaker in the art-house sphere deserves an overdue, indignant rebuke more than Catherine Breillat.
She certainly enjoys contriving ugly stuff for public exhibition.
It’s grimly amusing to report that Miss Breillat professes herself to be stunned by the Ontario gesture. Let her take it like the fearless cinematic sadist she pretends to be when resisted, every so often, by fed-up spectators.

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