Young & Beautiful [Jeune & Jolie] Movie Review
French filmmaker Francois Ozon continues to explore transgressive aspects of sexuality (see In the House) with this deliberately controversial drama about a teen prostitute. But since he refuses to indulge in the usual cliches, we don't react the way we think we should, so the film forces us to think about the story in a surprisingly fresh way.
The teen in question is Isabelle (Vacth), who in the summer of her 17th birthday orchestrates the loss of her virginity to a cute stranger. When she tells her little brother Victor (Ravat), he can't understand how Isabelle could so casually dump this boy. And she never tells her open-minded mother and stepdad (Pailhas and Pierrot). Back home in Paris, she secretly starts working after school as a high-class hooker, visiting her clients in pricey hotels. But when her favourite john (Leyson) dies suddenly, her secret comes out. And everyone wonders if she can go back to being a regular teen.
The twist here is that Isabelle comes from a liberal, wealthy family, and has no need to become a prostitute. She seems to do it out of boredom, because she doesn't need the money and isn't that interested in sex either. On the other hand, she loves pretending to be older than she is. Vacth reveals all of this through a remarkably transparent performance that's often unnerving to watch. By clouding her motivation, we almost become complicit in her actions. We certainly can't just sit back and watch passively.
Yes, this is a seriously squirm-inducing movie, and Ozon is terrific at creating such a matter-of-fact atmosphere that we can't fall back on our usual ill-informed opinions. We are forced to consider Isabelle for who she is, not what she's done. Some viewers will be annoyed that Ozon doesn't lay everything out clearly, but he's helping us consider a whole range of ideas, from the way young people mature so much more quickly today to the need to perhaps redefine what makes someone a sexual predator. And without offering simplistic answers, he forces us to explore questions we're afraid to ask.