Young & Beautiful (2013)

3/5

Jeune & Jolie

France; François Ozon

Mature Audiences – Strong Sex; Nudity

 

Isabelle (Marine Vacht) is on summer holidays with her mother, stepfather and pre-adolescent brother in the South of France. She loses her virginity the day of her seventeenth birthday with her German boyfriend, but the experience doesn’t fulfill her. Back in Paris, she jilts him and engages into a perilous and impulsive exploration of her troubled sexuality by working as a prostitute under the name of Lea. The awkward, introvert and brooding teenager turns, for her fleeting encounters with unknown older men, into a sophisticated and hypersexualized young woman. But her double life is dramatically exposed when one of her clients dies in her arms.

What strikes us most about Isabelle is the lack of any driving force behind her shocking decisions, beyond perhaps an elusive vanity and disenchantment with life in general.  The same could be said of the film itself.  Despite occasional strong, poignant moments, Jeune & Jolie comes across as eerily disincarnated, almost lifeless. It undeniably has a distant elegance and self-assurance that make for a fascinating and uncanny cerebral experience, but the ensemble is ostensibly just the latest (but most certainly not last) chapter of a long string of opaque explorations of uneasy female sexuality and fantasies, the most obvious example being Buñuel’s Belle de Jour.  Marine Vacht shines as a new Catherine Deneuve, displaying the same emotional frigidness and distant dignity that seem, at least temporarily, to place her above material and human turmoil. But if Belle de Jour was, at heart, the purest brand of erotic surrealism, Jeune & Jolie is erotic hyperrealism, a slow-burning, meandering and graphic study of adolescent angst, captured with the obsessive meticulosity of a botanist.

One scene, through its sheer horror, stands out. Isabelle meets a client in a hotel. He is younger, fitter and more assured than most. But he treats her with a contempt that borders sadism, brutally telling her to mimic pleasure “more realistically” and crawl on all fours. Isabelle’s humiliation is painful to watch, but even more excruciating is how she tries until the end to satisfy her client. In a film where Vacht is uniformly frigid and fundamentally impenetrable, this sees her as she is, a scared, humiliated little girl, and arises a blistering, if brief, wave of empathy and compassion.

Emotional distance is sometimes a deliberate aesthetic choice. But this time, it simply doesn’t work, Jeune & Jolie failing to prompt anything but an automatized interest. 

 

Jeune et jolie quad

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