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Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) is a shy twelve year old with something of an eating problem. Her sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida) is fifteen, beautiful and looking for love. While on holiday at the seaside with their parents, the girls meet Fernando (Libero dr Rienzo), an older Italian student, also on holidays. He falls for Elena (and vice versa), but he's already had many sexual conquests and wants to take things with Elena faster than she really cares to. Meanwhile, Anaïs who loves and hates her sister equally, begins to withdraw into herself, eating even more. Elena desperately wants Fernando's love; but what is she prepared to do to get it?

Review by Jake Wilson:
Essentially A Ma Soeur! is another punishing expressionist tract from a filmmaker who thinks in feverish capital letters (Man! Woman! Sex! Death!) but it has a veneer of naturalism that may win over some viewers who disliked Catherine Breillat's essayistic porn film Romance. At least, this time I don't see how anyone could accuse Breillat of getting too intellectual about sex: the emotions are primal and designed to hit you in
the gut. An alternate title for the film is 'Fat Girl,' which tells you something about Breillat's bluntness as well as her way of seeing her characters as bodies (and her tough, non-condescending humour). In the first shots of the sisters together, the film's whole dynamic is wordlessly spelled out. There's Elena, fifteen, slender and pouting, a classic beauty whose personality remains elusive behind her fragile features; and there's tousle-haired, heavy-set Anaïs, twelve years old but as large as a grown woman, who clumps along as if shouldering all the disappointments of a life not yet lived.

It's easy to get so caught up in these characters you don't notice what a good director Breillat is - alert but rarely flashy, she's always keeping several narrative balls in the air, with constant shifts of attention from one sister to the other. Her jagged, highly subjective approach to editing means that needless plot links can simply be skipped, while a key seduction scene goes on so long the whole movie becomes a study of how two bodies move on a bed: every caress, hesitation or gesture of resistance has a specific dramatic weight.

It's not a perfect film: there's an element of cliché in the primary theme (a young girl's first love) and while Elena's smooth Italian boyfriend is plausibly conceived he's perhaps too purely what he needs to be to serve the story. The ending, which some viewers will find unsatisfying and even repellent, is a separate issue: like the ending of Romance it can be read as a fantasy, or a shift to a different level of reality where the darkest, most hidden desires of the characters get magically acted out. In any case, there's no denying Breillat makes exciting films: strongly recommended

Published May 24, 2007

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(France, 2001)

CAST: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Libero De Rienzo, Arsinee Khanjian

PRODUCER: Catherine Breillat

DIRECTOR: Catherine Breillat

SCRIPT: Catherine Breillat

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorgos Arvanitis, Olivier Fortin, Christophe Le Caro

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes




DVD RELEASE: July 30, 2002

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