The visual look of Breillat's work tends to be romantic. The opening of "Sex Is Comedy" and the opening of "Romance" both have an aesthetically pleasing set design, as does "Anatomy of Hell." But this is where performance and visuals begin to collide. The actors are miserable on the beach in "Sex Is Comedy." Marie is profoundly frustrated with her boyfriend in "Romance." A woman attempts suicide in "Anatomy of Hell." In this sense, the visual look of the films makes the unhappiness of the characters ironic. And we are curious as to why.
A second visual component is that Breillat saves close-ups for vital parts rather than vital dramatic moments; otherwise, her visual style does not emotionalize scenes. On the contrary, her intent seems to be to objectify her characters and objectify the sexual act. Longs shots tend to objectify rather than emotionalize. When Marie gets undressed in front of her boyfriend, we can see her disrobing in the same shot that registers her boyfriend's indifference.
What does draw Breillat to close-ups is violence. In the last scene of "Romance," which focuses on the birth of Marie's child, Breillat uses close-ups. The head of the baby as it emerges from the vagina is an intense close-up that is followed by the full emergence of the baby. As presented, this moment is about birth as violence to the mother's body.
The kiss of actor and actress on the beach in "Sex Is Comedy" is shot as a close-up that illustrates the hatred of one character for the other. Similarly, Breillat used a close-up to reveal the breast of the actress on the beach. Given the temperature, this shot implies not passion but cold weather. The depiction of violence and its part-298 nership with acts of intimacy, even love, supports Breillat's director's idea and does not yield insight into her characters.
Breillat also uses camera placement and editing to create a sense of violence. In "Fat Girl," the editing style up until the drive back to Paris was very relaxed, but then the style shifts abruptly. The mother is very angry with the older daughter, Elena, but seems to save all her ire for Anai's. The shots from the point of view of Anai's or the mother are of the traffic, particularly the trucks. Often their Mercedes seems surrounded by trucks. The sequence also focuses on the mother's anger. She is smoking almost continually. She does not turn on the radio when Anai's requests it, but later she turns on the music very loud, much to the annoyance of Anai's. Anai's purchasing food, eating, and being sick—all are visually included. Elena seems exceedingly worried whether her mother will tell her father what happened and whether they will force her to be medically examined. By jump cutting, by focusing on the number and proximity of the trucks, Breillat creates a sense of impending violence. Consequently, the trip seems almost unbearable and dangerous. When the mother stops the car at night to rest, it is almost a relief. This momentary peace does not last long, however. Elena goes to the restroom, and a truck pulls in. The driver eyes them and then smashes the window with an axe and does the same to Elena. The violence continues unabated until the police find Anais. In this sequence, Breillat used camera placement and an editing strategy to prepare us for the violence.
In tying murder and rape to a narrative about an obese girl who is the scapegoat of her family, Breillat created her most overpowering realization of her director's idea. Here, sexuality is at the core of the narrative. Exerting power, whether the sexual power of an adolescent over her sibling or the male-female power struggle, always leads to the same place —the violent resolutions of conflict that affirm that women are the victims of men rather than their partners. "Fat Girl" takes us as far from romantic love as we can travel. We are left with the director's idea to ponder our own idealizations and demonizations of sexuality. This is where Breillat's films take us.
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