Provocation is again on the menu for fans of French writer/director Catherine Breillat, the woman behind such art-house scandals as the Lolita-lite "36 Fillette" and the sexually graphic meditation on female desire "Romance."
As "Fat Girl" opens, pudgy, pubescent Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) and her slightly older sister, Elena (Roxane Mesquida), stroll through the resort where they are vacationing with their upper-middle-class family. As they will throughout the film, they disagree and compete. Baby-fat-swaddled tagalong Anaïs insists she doesn't care who takes her virginity; she wants to be "broken in" for her dream man. Willowy fashion-model manqué Elena maintains she'll hold out for true love, though they both know she will have no shortage of eager suitors.
Enter Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), an Italian law student vacationing nearby. As Anaïs looks on, Fernando zeroes in on Elena and -- in an extraordinary scene set in the girls' shared bedroom -- plies his underage intended with every trick in the young-cad handbook. The scene is discomfiting to watch, but so truthful that we can't look away. Breillat is similarly unblinking throughout, as the not-so-grown-up Elena wrestles with Fernando, and Anaïs wrestles with her own budding desires, her body image and her fraught relationship with her sister.
Despite the film's unvarnished portrait of teen-age realpolitik and the uncanny performances, Breillat's overall thrust remains a bit elusive. She effects a seismic shift in the film's tone and direction that many viewers will find disturbing, others a cheap trick. But no other film released so far this year is likely to generate as much discussion afterward.