tue 23/07/2024

Jeune et Jolie | reviews, news & interviews

Jeune et Jolie

Jeune et Jolie

Authentic sexual discovery, or male wish fulfilment? Ozon's latest is a provocative drama

Marine Vacth navel-gazes in 'Jeune et Jolie'

You wait ages for a French film about a teenage girl's sexual awakening and then two come along at once. Actually who am I kidding? As any filmic Francophile will tell you it's not exactly a rarity. Still, red-hot on the heels of the astonishing Blue is the Warmest Colour comes François Ozon's Jeune et Jolie.

As sleek and enigmatic as its protagonist, whereas Blue gave us a messy relationship and bodily fluids (including snot), Jeune et Jolie is an altogether cooler, stranger and unfortunately not nearly as credible affair - although it is a lot shorter.

Jeune et Jolie is the mercurial Ozon's 15th narrative feature, following the twisty-thriller-cum-farce In the House. Fledgling actress (and model) Marine Vacth plays Isabelle. As the film opens she's just 16, first viewed provocatively through binoculars as she walks across a sun-kissed beach. Settling down to sunbathe she nonchalantly removes her bikini top and it's then that the voyeur is revealed as none other than her little brother, Victor (Fantin Ravat, pictured below right with Géraldine Pailhas). Yes, it's that kind of film.

Set over four consecutive seasons, Jeune et Jolie begins by documenting Isabelle's loss of virginity, just shy of her 17th birthday, the result of a holiday romance with a German tourist named Felix (Lucas Prisor) who she describes dismissively as "dumb" (the lack of feeling is mutual, he observes that she's "weird"). The moment itself is far from romantic, a fleeting fumble on the beach during which Isabelle appears to herself, out of body, a look of disappointment painted across her face.

We next catch up with Isabelle in autumn, back in an affluent neighbourhood of Paris where she lives with her warm and attentive mother Sylvie (Pailhas), laidback stepfather Patrick (Frédéric Pierrot) and brother. She's a literature student who - although she's in no need of the money - is leading a double-life as a prostitute named Lea. We see her with a variety of clients, including the elderly Georges (Johan Leysen, pictured below left with Vacth) with whom she forges something resembling a connection, before it all goes tragically wrong.

There's more than little bit of Brigitte Bardot in the bee-stung, sulky, slender Vacth - an enigmatic beauty who ultimately displays the kind of contempt that recalls Bardot's work in Le Mépris. And Jeune et Jolie is as provocative now as the film that launched Bardot, Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman, with Isabelle similarly portrayed as the object of infatuation. Although she's out of reach, thanks to the impressive Vacth Isabelle grows before us, from someone who's blithely unaware of her own physical potency to someone who uses it like a weapon and is feared by women as she's coveted by men.

Ozon's films are, invariably, as beautiful as his stars and he can spin a story with admirable finesse - ever swinging between dark and light, happy and sad, farce and drama, and he's known for fearlessly exploring the sexual desire of a wide variety of ages. If he's asking us to uncover the motivation for Isabelle's transgressive behaviour though, the answer doesn't seem to be within our reach. Her former wild-child mother appears to be conducting her own affair but Isabelle discovers this after she begins turning tricks, her parents' separation is said to be amicable and, although her biological father is largely absent, she is in fact spoilt by both of them. So she's far from unloved or unprovided for, it seems unlikely she needs much reassurance regarding her attractiveness and the film doesn't play as satire in the manner of Buñuel's darkly surreal masterpiece Belle de Jour (which sees a jaded bourgeois housewife set up shop in a brothel).

If this is simply a story of a young woman experimenting sexually then, in contrast to Blue is the Warmest Colour (which is both sexually and emotionally intimate and hugely insightful), the unconvincing central conceit of Jeune et Jolie and the emotional distance from the lead means it seems more like male fantasy than a sincere effort to explore a teenager's sexual awakening (see Love Like Poison - also from France - for another recent example of how that's done). To get under the audience's skin Ozon needed to get beneath more than his protagonist's clothes.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Jeune et Jolie

Follow @EmmaSimmonds on Twitter

Ozon's films are, invariably, as beautiful as his stars and he can spin a story with admirable finesse


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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