Wow, for years I thought I would hate this movie, but it popped up on best-of-decade lists so I gave it a shot and enjoyed the whole thing. It’s even a genre I dislike, the youth coming-of-age story, but this one’s aimed at adults (creepy adults maybe, all NC-17 for underage sex).
Anaïs (henceforth Anais) is the fat girl (French title was something like To My Sister!) on vacation with her parents and hot older sister. After some frank sex chat (younger Anais: “If I meet a man I love I’d want to be broken in. The first time should be with nobody.”) the girls meet roguish Italian Fernando, who’s making out with older sister Elena in a restaurant within minutes. Anais barely seems to pay attention, kills time the whole movie singing and talking to herself, imagining multiple boyfriends, chanting about being bored.
First-time sex scene follows between Elena and the boy. She tries to back out, but he counters, not about to give up. “All the girls take it the back way. That way it doesn’t count. It’s a proof of love.”
Excellent, unique in its shots and pacing and general outrageousness. I’d watch more Breillat for sure. I get the feminist label for the most part – it’s told completely from girls’ perspectives. The ending worries me, where the older sister and her mom get killed by a maniac who then rapes Anais. Doesn’t seem too feminist, that. Maybe the very end is feminist – Anais insisting to the cops and medics that she wasn’t raped. She can’t mean she wanted it, so maybe she’s making comparisons to her sister’s experience (Anais was in the room at the time). All sex is/isn’t rape, that sort of thing.
The most interesting part is really the relationship between Elena and the boy. He steals a ring from his mother and gives it to Elena, leading to parental intervention and the abrupt end of the vacation. The boy tricked Elena into having sex, but it didn’t ruin her life; she’s still crazy for him. The director doesn’t talk plot in the DVD features, just metaphor – pressing forth, climbing mountains, doing something that is beyond me. Film should be a tormenting experience! She presents herself as an actor-torturing sadist, but the actors all seem happy in behind-the-scenes footage. Breillat seems the stereotype of an arty Euro filmmaker, but her great movie proves otherwise.
Older sister Roxane Mesquida later starred in two more Breillat films. Mom Arsinée Khanjian is Atom Egoyan’s wife so she’s in all his movies as well as Code Unknown and Irma Vep. Dad Romain Goupil is a director, has worked with Chantal Akerman. Our D.P. Giorgos Arvanitis shot films for Theo Angelopoulos, and Breillat made the movie Romance (X), which I skipped in Barcelona to see either Wild Wild West, Happiness or Judas Kiss.