French Screenwriter-director François Ozon returns to BFI LFF 2013 with another coming-of-age film, this time with subjective comedic value. Palme d’Or nominated Jeune et Jolie is one of sexual discovery of a young seventeen-year-old girl, Isabelle (Marine Vacth), who deals with her newfound womanhood in a rather extreme fashion. This is perhaps no surprise to diehard Ozon fans, but it does stretch the film’s credibility of events.
Isabelle willingly loses her virginity to an older boy while on holiday in the South of France with her family. This new awakening leads her to try prostitution on returning home to Paris, unbeknown to her family and college friends. She forms a close relationship with one of her clients, Georges (Johan Leysen), but things take a tragic turn after one hotel meeting, the results of which unravel her hidden secret.
What is perhaps most perplexing and not necessarily fully explained is why a young girl would go from an unsatisfying first sexual encounter – generally the norm for most – to high-class escort? Ozon’s link here is questionable, and there is no apparent catalyst for this to be the case. Added to which, stunning Isabelle’s home life seems happy and healthy, living a middle-class existence in an affluent part of Paris. Perhaps Ozon is suggesting not only a developing free will at this crucial age, but also questioning what true ‘fulfilment’ is, as those who have it all never seem satisfied? This is still tentative and pure speculation on this reviewer’s part.
Jeune et Jolie is the classic father-daughter relationship scenario French film-making is notoriously expert at. The younger female drawn to age and wisdom is the stuff of fantasy for mature males, and with Vacth’s beauty and mystique to admire, and Isabelle’s chosen profession that could make such a beautiful creature accessible to older men, Ozon panders to that illusion. It is nothing groundbreaking in this respect. Coupled with her rebellious nature, Isabelle is a figure of curious awe, the likes of which we try to fathom, hence further feeding the need to understand why she chooses the path she does. There is also an intriguing nod to the influences of modern mobile technology that allows for self-reinvention and living a double life.
Ozon gets some subtle and intelligent performances from his lead and the rest of his cast, with Frédéric Pierrot as Patrick, Isabelle’s step-father, in another LFF 2013 offering, again very similar to his The Returned TV character, Jérôme. Model Vacth is a vision, quietly confident in her first lead performance and keeping Isabelle an enigma, as she is an average, mischievous teen pushing boundaries. There is something openly experimental about the whole affair as Ozon toys with engrained morals and ‘the norm’. In fact, some might cynically say Isabelle is very entrepreneurial in times of austerity…
Jeune et Jolie is another Ozon challenge to societal norms, as with his other work. However, although intriguing, there is a lack of initial continuity to Isabelle’s behaviour, and the absence of more obvious satirical humour to this film leaves the status quo strangely hanging. Still, it is a solid performance from Vacth who could have been a serious Ana contender for the forthcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, in terms of looks and independent spirit. Nevertheless, Vacth makes an impressive lead entry into a blossoming film career, with Ozon’s pedigree and direction fully in her favour, allowing her to shine. Perhaps it’s time for old Ozon muse Romola Garai to step aside?