Jeune et Jolie

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

François Ozon

Starring

Frédéric Pierrot Géraldine Pailhas Marine Vacth

Anticipation.

Always worth seeing if François Ozon’s got a great film in him...

Enjoyment.

...even though he very rarely does.

In Retrospect.

An open text, though one that doesn’t add up to much whichever way you chose to look at it.

A glassy-eyed and ambiguous portrait of a teenage call-girl from director François Ozon.

It would come as no surprise if French director François Ozon, one day in the future, made a truly great film. But that time has yet to come. Sure, he’s made a fair few decent films, maybe even the odd really good one, but never a work which might lodge him firmly into the hallowed annuls of contemporary film lore. And so it is with his latest, Jeune et Jolie, a film so careful and so self-consciously unwilling to reveal its hand, that you spend much of its runtime thinking that it might just be a one big ol’ bluff at the viewers’ expense.

Isabelle is young, sexually curious teenager (played with Sphinx-like passivity by the lissom Marine Vacth) who could pretty much have any man she laid her glassy eyes on. She dutifully off-loads her virginity during a mid-night cavorting session on a quaint family beach holiday, though the impression we’re given is that the experience was not a particularly satisfying or memorable one. Yet, it has in some way altered her perception of the world, as well as the perception of her body and its potential application. Though monied, successful and achingly middle class in every respect, Isabelle decides that the thing she needs to do right now is to become a call girl.

Initially, the film follows her as she learns the particulars of her clandestine trade, learning the right ways and wrong ways of doing sexual business via simple trial and error. But it soon becomes clear that Ozon has set his sights a little higher and that his film is constantly teasing the viewer towards adopting a moral stance on the apparently motiveless actions his implacable heroine while never imparting quite enough information to allow us to amply do so. Vacth, who has all the emotional clarity of a particularly blank Bressonian ‘model’, just carries out her illicit duties without ever revealing what her reasons might be.

It’s a risky strategy, and one which doesn’t pay off. Even though Jeune et Jolie is a film about teenage liberation and self-reliance, its opaque message ends up coming across as a Reefer Madness-style conservative broadside about the worrying habits of habitually immoral teenagers. There is a conundrum hidden within the core of the text which relates to the essentially unknowable nature of human beings and the suggestion that, sometimes, people just do things for reasons that other people will never be able to understand, and that in itself is an interesting concept. But when filtered into a drama such as this, it translates as a nothing more than an intellectual Get Out Of Jail Free card.

Published 29 Nov 2013

Tags: François Ozon Marine Vacth

Anticipation.

Always worth seeing if François Ozon’s got a great film in him...

Enjoyment.

...even though he very rarely does.

In Retrospect.

An open text, though one that doesn’t add up to much whichever way you chose to look at it.

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