It’s great to live in an age in which cinema can deal with stories about taboo subjects like teenage prostitution in frank and honest ways, without resorting to patronizing of any kind. Detachment is what allows Young and Beautiful to be so powerful. François Ozon makes no attempt to judge the actions of the protagonist of his film. In no way does he elevate his viewpoint as superior. This unusual approach encourages the viewer to engage with the film in a completely objective way and look at the situation from different perspectives.
The protagonist of the film, Isabelle (Maina Vacth) is a 17-year-old girl who loses her virginity to a cute German boy on her summer holiday. But it is no memorable love affair, nothing to sing about Grease-style. When she returns to Paris, she unceremoniously starts leading the double life of innocent secondary school-girl and independent escort. There is no sexualization or exploitation of this narrative in any outrageous way, visual or otherwise. The topic of the movie is certainly provocative, but it is not dealt with for cheap shocks and softcore effects. Indeed, Ozon’s matter-of-fact filmmaking style hints at a naturalistic type of behaviour. There is no tragedy involved. Isabelle’s choice of sleeping using her youth and beauty as a means for financial gains almost seems like a totally sensical business opportunity. It is, nonetheless, her own choice to lie about her age and sleep with older men for cash.
There is also an admirable maturity about Isabelle’s attitude towards sexuality in general. The female, usually restricted to being the object of desire or the dangerous femme fatale or the victim of films about sex, escapes such easy categorizations for a much more realistic and less simplistic depiction. Ozon’s tone, in fact, allows naturally shifts the focus on the repercussions of sexual repression on the supporting cast of the movie. For instance, Isabelle’s mother becomes frightened and jealous of her sexual activity and begins to see her as a rival for the attentions and affection of her husband, who is also Isabelle’s stepfather. Meanwhile, she is cheating on him with a family friend.
The subtlety of the movie’s subplots enriches a palette of dramatic implications that feel totally refreshing. Nonetheless, perhaps fearing his artistic endeavour as too broad, Ozon reserves a final twist on the narrative, featuring Charlotte Rampling, that encapsulates the message of the film all too obviously and risks spoiling the film’s overall effect. Thankfully, it doesn’t quite do that. – ★★★★
JEUNE ET JOLIE || 2013, France || Drama || Directed by – Francois Ozon / Produced by – Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer / Written by – Francois Ozon / Music by – Philippe Rombi / Cinematography – Pascal Marti / Edited by – Laure Gardette / Starring – Marine Vacth, Charlotte Rampling, Johan Leysen, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot / Running time: 93 mins.