YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL
The story of seventeen-year-old Isabelle's (Marine Vacth) sexual journey over four seasons (accompanied by four Francoise Hardy songs) from the awakening of her desires to her first time, from her exploration of sex to her search for her identity.
Review by Louise Keller:
Francois Ozon's intriguing exploration of a young girl's sexuality fascinates yet frustrates as she secretly steps into a life of prostitution. Like Isabelle's (Marine Vacth) fleeting encounters, it's all a bit of a tease, the film falling short of providing an insight into the protagonist's emotional state and what motivates her in her double life. It is however, a star-making performance from Vacth, whose luminous screen presence is the film's calling card, as she switches from freckle-faced schoolgirl to serene seductress at call.
The tantalising opening shot through a pair of binoculars, reveals a beautiful young girl on the beach removing her bikini-top. The voyeur is Isabelle's younger brother Victor (Fantin Ravat), who immediately becomes complicit to her escapades, agreeing not to tell. In the lead up to her 17th birthday, it is clear that her intention to lose her virginity is not coloured by romantic notions; the fact that Isabelle is shown 'watching' the sex act is curious in itself. Isabelle's state is one of detachment as she surreptitiously discards jeans and sweatshirts and dons silk, skirts and stilettos for illicit rendez-vous in hotels and cars. The wad of notes accumulates (300 Euros at a time) but stays hidden in her wardrobe. Money is clearly not the motivator.
Ozon has structured his story over the four seasons and with each one, comes a Francoise Hardy song, the chanteuse's tuneful, delicate voice epitomising the innocence lost. The attention focuses on the various relationships within Isabelle's family, her peers and her clients. In particular, we warm to the gentle, ageing Georges (Johan Leysen, excellent) with whom Isabelle establishes a bond that is a complex mix of paternal concern, sensuality and lust. It is this relationship that changes the course of events. The sex scenes are depicted in true French fashion where the nude body is accepted as part of life and Isabelle learns the hard way to get her money up front. Géraldine Pailhas is a strong addition to the cast as Isabelle's concerned mother Sylvie. The sibling relationship with Victor is totally credible - promising everything but delivering little. The appearance of Ozon favourite Charlotte Rampling in a pivotal cameo is fitting, bringing closure to one of the story's plot twists.
Ozon's films have often explored the intricacies of intimate relationships and in particular those of women. Despite the lure of the subject matter here, there is a lack of completeness about Young and Beautiful; the performance of Ozon's leading lady Vacth being its greatest asset.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Like most French filmmakers, François Ozon is fascinated by female sexuality and like many, he can cut through to genuine observations about it with the acute insight of a ... well, a woman. Swimming Pool, for example. This time, he leaves me unconvinced and disappointed. Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is a vague character in the film, forged - Ozon hopes - out of her actions. But there is so little to work with, Isabelle is a mirage of a teenager discovering sex and then rediscovering it several times more with a variety of men. Not that she discovers much ... and there's the problem for the audience, who are dragged along to witness not very much except sexual activity from various angles.
The jump from losing her virginity to turning tricks is almost instant and seemingly unmotivated by anything in her life, not even money, which she secretly collects at 300 euros a pop. Her average middle class French family is a neutral setting for this girl, although her younger brother Victor is a breath of fresh air for us, as played by the promising youngster, Fantin Ravat.
Chaptering the film into the four seasons seems like a device without real meaning or clear metaphorical purpose. It begins in summer, when Isabelle loses her virginity, for example.
With such millstones around its neck, the film struggles to float, and Marine Vacth is directed to be rather limited in responsiveness, even when in sexual action. This works to keep the film's emotional temperature rather cool and only her distraught mother Sylvie (Géraldine Pailhas) delivers an emotionally satisfying menu.
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YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL (R18+)
Jeune & Jolie
CAST: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frederic Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard, Djedje Apali, Lucas Prisor
PRODUCER: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
DIRECTOR: François Ozon
SCRIPT: François Ozon
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pascal Marti
EDITOR: Laure Gardette
MUSIC: Philippe Rombi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Katia Wyszkop
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Entertainment One
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 10, 2014