Director: François Ozon
Cast: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling
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What drives someone to become a prostitute? François Ozon follows up In the House with another tale of adolescent transgression into the murky adult world, following Isabelle (Vacth) as she turns to tricks outside of school. Why? We never really find out.
We start with Isabelle on holiday with her family – a long shot of her on the beach as her brother spies on her bikini through binoculars. It’s a telling opening, which raises questions of voyeurism and sexual discovery. Those questions are seemingly answered when the under-age girl gets off with a German boy. A few weeks later, back at home, and she starts doing the same with other men for money.
Was she left unfulfilled by their encounter? Is she trying to get practise for the future? Does she enjoy being attractive to grown-ups? Is she filling a hole left by her father? Or is she just saving up cash?
There are a range of possibilities, but Ozon’s script never picks one. Instead, we are left to debate the motivations and morals ourselves as she stumbles into a relationship with a very-much-older man, George (Johan Leysen). A voracious pensioner, he laps up her body with an unflinching desire, one echoed by Ozon’s unblinking camera. Their sex scenes, though, are more than mere carnal excitement, leaving a lasting impression on the teen.
Marine Vacth is astonishing as Isabelle, communicating her coming of age and confusion while barely saying a word. Confrontations with her mother, Sylvie (a spot-on Géraldine Pailhas), are perfectly painful, while her step-dad (Pierrot) appears to wonder what all the fuss is about. And yet Isabelle remains an enigma. Her aloof answers to a therapist’s questions halfway through only underline her character’s elusive innards.
The director hints at possible resolutions towards the end in a cracking dance scene at a party, which cuts straight from loud techno to an old French standard – but his script remains stubbornly uncertain, plodding through season-based chapter titles that add nothing to the drama. And so we are left with Isabelle to intrigue as we ponder our own answers in this sexualised modern society.
“You have lovely eyes,” Charlotte Rampling says to her at one point. “Sad.”
As Isabelle gains both experience and funds, the quiet sense that she’s also losing something hangs over Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful) – a title that feels increasingly ironic. But one thing’s certain: she’ll have your attention throughout.