Young and Beautiful and Formulaic

By Moira Sullivan
*Spoiler Alert*

Debuting at the Cannes film festival last year in the official competition was Young and Beautiful, in French young and pretty (Jeune et Jolie) a typically French film involving lots of sex with a beautiful woman. It displays the kind of homework that Lars von trier could have done for his film Nymphomaniac Volume 1 and Volume 2. This time it is Francois Ozon who missed some classes on his subject. His tabloid film form of four seasons and four songs does not succeed in imbuing the film with any notable quality. It is the film where every scene is filled with the beautiful face of his lead actress 24 year old Marine Vacth. As such it is a role that will bring her forward in her career and even like Catherine Deneuve who transcended playing the beautiful prostitute from home, and not from the street, (Belle de Jour, France 1967) it will be the cornerstone of Vacth's by which all subsequent films will be judged.

The 17 year Isabelle has sex for the first time on the beach with a young German. From all indications it is not a wonderful experience, perhaps for him but certainly not for her. She had been looking forward to this and as it turns out it is not only uncomfortable and unpleasurable but purely mechanical. This is perhaps the most realistic part of the film. From there, by chance, while her family is watching TV she sees an ad for an escort service online. She makes a profile and begins receiving clients. All of the experiences are like her first one: unsatisfying and mechanical. Her clients pay her for the sex and shortchange her if they aren’t satisfied along with calling her names and putting her down. 

She meets Georges (Johan Leysen) an older man who turns out to be the most sensitive of them all. After several encounters, while having sex he dies of a heart attack. She is discovered leaving the hotel by the surveillance cameras and tracked to her home. Her mother and stepfather find out. They don’t have the most ideal marriage since the mother is cheating on her partner and Isabelle discovers this. Isabelle is sent to the worst kind of psychiatrist who looks a little like the man who dies from a heart attack. Throughout the film are four old sappy love songs sung by women that convey the myth of love with the right guy. Isabelle tries to have a normal life after the police discover her with a regular guy but she has become addicted to the causal anonymous and ungratifying sex with high pay. She has learned to be flirtatious and get attention and power from men. She later meets the kind of guy her parents would approve of and the sex she has with him is not shown. Only the sensational illicit love with strangers is photographed in the film. Because of this preoccupation, the sex becomes gratuitous and sensationalized and it is hard to see the necessity in making a story about Isabelle. This kind of film has been made over and over in France and it is not unusual that it winds up in the official selection at Cannes by a veteran filmmaker, since it is a viable commercial product for the French market.

Charlotte Rambling is also a stable commodity in the French cinema market and has appeared in other films made by Ozon. In Young and Beautiful she plays Alice,the wife of the client with the heart attack who seeks out Isabelle to be in the same room as her husband and pays for sex that she presumably never has.

The cinematography of the film is high quality by Pascal Marti (Paris je t’aime) but we must remember that most of the film is about Isabelle and her clients. Attempts are made to understand Isabelle’s social background but the premise of the film is, that you can always fall in love and live happily ever after, but the danger and excitement of prostitution is held in higher regard. It seems impossible for Isabelle to ‘reform’ nor is it presented as desirable.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/07/14
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