Comfortable and Furious

Fat Girl (2001)

If, as Freud once said, all women secretly long to be raped, then French director Catherine Breillat would argue that there really is no other way to experience intercourse, at least if you are of the female persuasion. One of the many revolutionary ideas expressed in this provocative drama is that rape, at least what many would consider to be such, is actually a more authentic sexual experience than standard, male-oriented seduction. Consider the extended sequence involving Elena, an attractive, sexually aware young woman who eventually sleeps with a young man she meets while on vacation, but only after being charmed, pressured, and cajoled. For some, this is budding romance; for Breillat, this is man’s manipulative nature literally forcing a woman to bend to his whims. His methods would meet the approval of nearly everyone, yet his offerings of concern and love are bloated lies in service of his narcissism.

In this way, then, a man needs a woman to complete the sexual act, but her presence is largely irrelevant unless she can serve his desires. The intercourse itself lacks the raw brutality of a forced rape, but the two acts are bound together by the common element of submission. Also consider the final scene, where young Anais (the girl of the title) is raped by a murderous stranger. By all accounts, the scene is graphic, nasty, and violent, yet the girl in question willingly complies with the rapist, if not outright forces his hand. But because of her age and the nature of the interaction, it is clearly rape as we have come to understand the term. And yet, Anais has participated in the act to a more significant degree than Elena.

Anais is treated like a slab of meat and largely dehumanized, but there’s a curious lack of pretense in the matter. The rapist, then, is pure, honest; for he has declared that what is to follow is about his needs, and he’s willing to hurt someone else to satisfy them. Elena, on the other hand, is led to believe she is participating, but is as much (if not more) a victim of brutality as Anais. It’s all in how we define our terms.

Whatever one might think of the notion that sex, as practiced in the Western world, is almost always an issue of power and identity, Breillat is one of the few directors with the chops to ask the tough questions. She’s challenging, deliberately offensive, and refreshingly fallible, in that she invites disagreement and debate. And she’s not above using a burst of unimaginable horror to punctuate matters, either. In any case, Fat Girl brings us into a world where the holy organs of copulation are never entirely what they seem, and when we meet, gather, flirt, and insinuate, we often delude ourselves about what’s really going on. It’s never simply a matter of boy meets girl; it never could be.