A Ma Souer

A ma soeur – in English, For My Sister (a.k.a. The Fat Girl) – is Catherine Breillat’s eighth film. Her cinema has always proved highly controversial and A ma soeur is no exception. The film deals with an immortal theme, spring awakening, also the topic of her Breillat’s first novel L'Homme facile (1967) and her first film, Une Vraie Jeune Fille, made in the 1976 but not released until recently. Awakening has always been a controversial theme but never more so than in Breillat’s hands. For her, sexual awakening is awakening into the fierce order of the wild, an unsettling image that draws attention to the violence at the edges of all our lives. No trivial violence this, it threatens the very existence of society. Thus the image of awakening in A ma soeur is a vision of evil, and Breillat’s cinema is a cinema of evil.
What is meant by ‘evil’ in this sense? Bataille provides an answer. He writes, ‘If a man kills for a material advantage his crime only really becomes a purely evil deed if he actually enjoys committing it’ (Bataille 1973: 18). The evil Bataille has in mind is not merely non-utilitarian but profoundly anti-utilitarian. This is why Bataille equates it with childhood. Utilitarian society, he notes, would not survive for an instant if childish instincts were allowed to triumph (18). This relationship between pre-pubescence and evil is the key theme of A ma soeur, where sexual awakening appears as a time of waiting, waiting for the assault on utilitarian order that will bring about freedom. And freedom, Bataille notes, exists only in the instant (Bataille 1994: 66). Freedom and evil are conjoined.
In a very real sense, Breillat’s cinematic achievement, culminating in A ma soeur, is a solution to a literary problem. Between the 1967 debut of L'Homme facile, a book translated into English as A Man For The Asking (Breillat 1969), and her first movie in 1976, Breillat published two further books and a stage play. The screenplay for Une vraie jeune fille (A...