Jeune & Jolie – Francois Ozon is staking out impressive territory in the cinema

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MOVIE REVIEW

Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful)
Mandarin Films, France
94 Min
1.85:1
UK Release: 29th November 2013

DIR François Ozon
PROD Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
SCR François Ozon
DP Pascal Marti
CAST Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling

Just when you thought there’d been enough fascination with teenage girls’ coming of age in the cinema, François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie) comes along. Ozon’s provocative and vibrant tendencies are far from asleep in this wonderful and intriguing exploration of a 17-year-old girl’s malicious entry into the world of prostitution. The film instantly reminded me of Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour where Catherine Deneuvre, playing a frigid housewife, also steps willfully into the enraptured trade. However, of course, Ozon is far less ambiguous and detached as Bunuel, taking the situation into far more emotionally challenging places, heralded by the stunning performance from the young and beautiful Marin Vacth.

The film begins with a provocative shot of Isabelle (Vacth), our heroine, on the beach in her bikini, seen through the lens of peering binoculars. It then becomes clear that Isabelle is on a seaside vacation with her family and desperate to lose her virginity with the mentality of getting it done and out the way. She’s even happy to tell her younger brother “it’s done” when she gets in. Ozon then cuts to the fall and we are greeted by a vamped out Isabelle, one laced with a silk blouse, heels and vivid rouge lipstick. She will sleep with any man for $300 and appears to favour the elder. This plot may seem gimmicky, but there are many more twists to come and Ozon crafts a film that is far more complex than at first may appear; it certainly isn’t an impermeable and literal diary of a teenage prostitute.

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Despite the film being a voyeuristic approach to a young and beautiful girl having sex, there isn’t much erotica, and the attitudes and positions of Ozon’s characters, alongside the framing and cinematography, are surprisingly uniform. This isn’t to say there’s no nudity or startling imagery, for starters, we’re talking about a French film here! Though, the shots are well lit and nicely complement the dramatic approach of the film. I’m not saying that Ozon particularly needs to push the boat out with his style; the mood suitably meets the confinements of our lead girl Isabelle. Her wicked compulsion is self-contained and her emotions rarely float above the surface, but when they do, it is a combination of self-destruction, redemption and arguably bad parenting – just some of the themes entwined into this uncanny picture.

The biggest area, no doubt, to critique is “why”? Isabelle comes from a rich family, so money is out the question. The family appears stable, thus ruling out childhood trauma or repression – her Mother actually encourages her to grow up by leaving out condoms on the side! Perhaps Isabelle wants her own sense of control, a chance to breakout, and her families bourgeois inclinations may have driven her towards this. However, it ultimately boils down to the fact that sometimes we don’t exactly understand our actions and this is positively implicit of a 17 year old. The story might not have been pulled off if it wasn’t for Vacth being such a strong and intriguing lead as Isabelle. Not for one minute does the film feel dull; Isabelle’s next step is constantly ambiguous. Ozon crafts his films in such a lifelike, yet peculiar fashion that one could watch on with intent for hours before dawning back to reality.

4/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

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