(2001, Catherine Breillat)
Anais is twelve years old. She's fat and is constantly eating. Her sister Elena is fifteen. She's beautiful and flirtatious. While on vacation Elena meets Fernando, an Italian student who seduces her and is determined to take her virginity. In a long, uncomfortable scene set during the dead of night, whispers between Elena and Fernando are overheard by Anais who is in the same room and pretending to be asleep.
Fernando seduces Elena with pseudo-romantic babble and she falls for it, or perhaps she pretends to? What transpires is a psycho-emotional threesome that interrogates the precarious interaction between a naive and beautiful girl, a lecherous man with one thing on his mind and the 'other' sister who is maybe jealous, maybe repulsed or a bit of both.
These two key bedroom scenes is familiar to anyone who has seen any number of French films about adolescents coming to terms with their sexuality. However, it is presented here with frankness and without romanticism. The shots are held to a considerable length and there's a mundanity to the cinematography and the design of the drab bedroom.
The way the scene plays out makes us vulnerable to its abrupt and shocking conclusion. Breillat turns a coming-of-age film into provocative feminist filmmaking and charges it with political statements about women and their relationships.
At its core is the connection between the two sisters. Like most siblings they are as ruthless to each other as they are kind. Their identities are so contrasting but they share a bond. When they talk it sounds like a summary of all female-female relationships. 'When I look into your eyes, it makes me feel like I belong as if they were my eyes', Elena says to her sister. 'When I hate you, I look at you then I can't', she replies. 'It's like hating part of myself'. This conversation is shot in close-up with their two heads side by side, hands laced together. 'We hate each other because we're raised as rivals'.