Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

A viciously insightful examination of the ways in which the bond between two teenage sisters is tested when they begin to realize just how powerful and double-edged a weapon beauty is, and how cruel the consequences of its unequal distribution can be. Fifteen-year-old Elena (Roxane Mesquida) and 12-year-old Anais (Anaïs Reboux) are on vacation with their parents (Arsinee Khanjian, Romain Goupil) at a French beach resort. Elena is a lissome beauty, while Anais is tubby and awkward, the unwelcome witness to Elena's flirtations with boys. Elena's summer romance arrives in the form of handsome Italian law student Fernando (Libero De Rienzo) at a cafe, with whom she flirts while Anais sullenly devours a banana split. Anxious to explore her blossoming sexuality, the virginal Elena allows herself to be seduced by Fernando's practiced but transparent declarations of love and devotion. Anais pretends to sleep as Fernando and Elena grapple awkwardly in the room the sisters share, listening with a complicated mix of fascination, envy and loathing. Elena fantasizes that she and Fernando are in love, that he'll wait for her to graduate high school and they'll be married — he's even given her a ring, a rare lavender opal. The inexperienced but observant Anais listens to her sister's effusions with an air of matter-of-fact sophistication that infuriates Elena, declaring that she wants her first time with a stranger so she won't have to deal with such messy emotions. Meanwhile, the girls' parents are oblivious, until Fernando's flamboyant mother (Laura Betti) erupts onto the scene and reveals all. The film comes to conclusion worthy of Abel Ferrara, one that could be either a ghoulish fantasy or the sort of ghastly turn of fate that casually dismembers people's lives. In any event, it's a shocker of the first order and a grim fulfillment of the threat inherent in the admonition that you should be careful what you wish for. Like Breillat's ROMANCE and A REAL YOUNG GIRL, this coming-of-age tale is predicated on the notion that the war between the sexes truly is just that. But it's also a laser-sharp evocation of the tortured ties that bind sisters, who can love and loathe each other simultaneously and inflict lifelong wounds with chilling expertise. And it's hard to resist the temptation to see autobiographical echoes of Breillat's own youth, when she was a smart, chubby youngster growing up in the shadow of a beautiful sister, '70s actress Marie-Helene Breillat.