The French director Catherine Breillat has in recent years become a kind of figurehead for what has been perceived by many as a new trend in contemporary European cinema toward extreme representations of violence and graphic sexuality. As a consequence of the controversy provoked by Breillat's portrayal in À ma sœur! (Fat Girl, France, 2001) and her other films of nonnormative, even taboo subjects—the depiction of childhood and adolescent sexuality, of unsimulated sex, and of statutory rape—writings on her work have focused largely on the director's public persona and the polemics surrounding these films rather than on their structure and the radical politics of the gaze they enact. Fat Girl depicts shocking and violent material as a means of critiquing the underlying structural violence that the director believes determines gendered power relations. Breillat's films have been misunderstood, Gelley contends, not primarily because of the transgressive nature of their subject matter but, more importantly, for the negativity and ambivalence of their critique and the way in which they reinvent the conventional cinematic language of heterosexual intimacy. Fat Girl is one instance of a larger trend in cultural production and critical discourse, part of a shift away from a focus on trauma and victimhood in the depiction of violence against women, and a turn to the contestatory and critical powers of cinematic and other visual representations that aim to disrupt and challenge our perception of violent action and “counterviolence.”

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