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Jeune et Jolie

October 4, 2014

Jeune et Jolie (2013)
Director: François Ozon
Actors: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot

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Synopsis: Teenager, Isabelle (Marine Vacth), loses her virginity while on holiday one summer in the South of France. Over the course of the next year, Isabelle experiments ever more with her sexuality – even to the point of exhibiting quite transgressive behaviour…

Review: This compelling and icy psychodrama from the epically prolific French auteur, François Ozon, sees him back at the peak of his game – matching the career highs he hit over a decade ago with his run of outstanding films such as Under the SandSwimming Pool and Time to Leave.

It’s a fascinating, deceptively acute portrait of a teenager’s transgressive sexual ‘awakening’ post-losing her virginity at the age of seventeen while on holiday in the South of France. Some commentators have received the work staggeringly superficially and blithely – pinning a lazy ‘exploitation’ or jocular ‘only in France could you get away with a film like this’ critique on the film merely because it depicts a beautiful French girl prostituting herself out to (for the most part) sleazy older men. There’s no attempt to engage with what the film is trying to say about its subject matter, and the artfulness with which Ozon tackles that content. One of Ozon’s prime successes is to actually honour the scenario’s inherent complexity, and to navigate against attempts to pigeon-hole it as either overtly feminist or misogynistic. And even though there are little psychoanalytical clues offered up as reasoning behind Isabelle’s actions, Ozon keeps the politique of the film as inscrutable and solipsistic as that of his teenage protagonist, Isabelle.

In many respects, Isabelle’s sexual odyssey is less about the money she procures or some sub-Freudian power game, but more about the simple matter of agency. Yes, there is obviously some underlying, subconscious attraction to sexual transactions with older men, but it’s more about the convergence of a murky cocktail of self-realisation, addiction and narcissistic teenage experimentation, as Isabelle begins to conscience the overwhelming physical and emotional control she can exact with her sexuality. Clearly, Ozon has taken this ‘phenomenon’ to an unusual dramatic extreme in having the teenager actually solicit herself as a high-class call-girl, but the film did loosely remind me of a paradigm from my own teenage years, and how some of the cool, pretty and ‘socially mobile’ sixteen and seventeen year-old girls in my school would invariably be dating and sexually active with older men who had the trappings of a more mature life – career, money, cars, status etc. (October 2014)

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