Jeune et jolie

Synopsis: Acclaimed director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Woman) helms this erotic tale of sexual awakening, featuring a “luminous, star-making performance” (David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter) from its young lead actress, Marine Vacth. After losing her virginity, 17-year-old budding beauty Isabelle (Vacth) takes up a secret life as a call girl, meeting older gentleman clients for erotic hotel room trysts. But throughout her sexual escapes Isabelle remains curiously aloof, showing little interest in the encounters themselves or the money she makes from them. What then does Isabelle hope to gain by offering her body up to the whims of strangers? A sleek and sexy coming-of-age drama, Young And Beautiful heralds the arrival of a new talent as guided by the masterful hand of one of cinema’s most assured artists.

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Jeune et jolie 8.0

eyelights: its unjudgmental perspective. its performances. its cast.
eyesores: its emotional blandness.

“What have we done wrong?”

What’s a parent to do with a child’s sexuality? How does one mind without being intrusive? How does one guide without being embarrassing? How much independence and trust is enough or too much?

These are not easy things to figure out given how uniquely personal sexuality can be.

My own mother would leave me books to read instead of broaching the subject directly. I didn’t just read them – I devoured them. On the flip side, she freaked out when I sought out porn magazines.

Go figure.

One of my friends’ mom would not only let his sister have sex with her boyfriend at home, she would leave condoms in the bathroom for them to use. But she freaked when she found us with a girl.

Mixed messages.

But formative experiences.

I wonder what kind of impact these had on our sexuality. Did this parental guidance keep us in check? Did it cement in us comfort or shame about sex? Was there a healthy or unhealthy balance?

I wish I knew.

In ‘Jeune et jolie’, François Ozon’s 2013 motion picture, we follow Isabelle’s early sexual development, from masturbation to losing her virginity to selling her sexual favours to much older men.

Isabelle is 17-year-old, but she can pass for 20. When she goes to her rendez-vous, she transforms from a stringbean teen in jeans into a mature-looking professional in tasteful business attire.

So it is that she manages to lead a double life, secretly meeting her clients between classes and after school. That is, until an unfortunate incident brings the police knocking at her door.

And her mom answers.

Eek.

What makes ‘Jeune et jolie’ different from others of its ilk is that Isabelle isn’t troubled, doesn’t have a bad home life, never had a traumatic sexual experience and wasn’t groomed to do this.

This is a premeditated choice that she’s made, purely for the experience, out of curiosity. Unlike her peers, she’s not even doing it for the money, which she’s stashing away without spending it.

She’s in fact rather dispassionate about it all.

And that‘s part of the picture’s problem, because her emotional remove makes for a fairly one-note experience; though the other characters are more natural, the emotional palette is fairly limited.

Even when Isabelle’s mother and stepfather find out, there’s obviously a certain amount of drama, but Isabelle’s detachment dulls the blows. Eventually, their family life returns to relatively normal.

Isabelle has close relationships with every family member, even her stepdad. She even finds in her younger brother a sidekick, someone with whom she shares her inner life and who covers for her.

There’s this terrific scene at the end in which her stepfather goes out to get the kids for breakfast, but catches the son masturbating and then overhears Isabelle having sex with her boyfriend.

So what does he do? He just goes back to the kitchen and tells his spouse that they might as well just start breakfast without them. I loved that he wasn’t fazed by it and accepts the kids’ sexuality.

That seems the right way to go – so long as the kids can make informed choices.

So I liked that bit.

But, for me, the strongest moments in the picture are when Isabelle convinces her mom to trust her again and when she meets with one of her regular’s widow: we see her connect with someone.

And gain closure.

I also like that the picture is unjudgemental. It’s a movie that could have been melodramatic or moralistic, but it’s neither; it merely observes one person’s journey through some unconventional choices.

Yes, her mom is upset. Yes, the police question her. Yes, her psychiatrist probes her. But we see her experience objectively, without the influence of a preordained message or vision by the filmmakers.

It leaves the audience to decide what’s right and wrong by themselves.

That’s pretty rare. And pretty cool.

One thing that I couldn’t help but wonder after watching this is why we were subject to yet another picture about a teenaged girl prostituting herself; it seems to me that there are tons already.

Is it because a majority of mainstream filmmakers are men – and have traditionally been male? Is it merely the male gaze at work again? Are there any male equivalents to this, a sort of ‘Jeune et joli’?

Perhaps it’s just a function of the fact that women are more likely to be solicited for sex by men than the reverse; it’s really commonplace. So maybe this abundance just expresses a reality of life.

But surely there must be female filmmakers making similar films from a female gaze standpoint. And, if not, there should be. At the very least, I’m sure there must be a gay version of this story.

Somewhere.

Ultimately, ‘Jeune et jolie’ is not an easy film to warm up to, but it’s an excellent coming-of-age story and character study that’s supported by François Ozon’s sure hand and strong performances.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the picture until I got to the end, and saw that Isabelle’s journey wasn’t intended to be tragic; it was merely a short period of experimentation in her young life.

That was cool.

We all experiment with our sexuality at some point, some of us at a younger age than others, and most of us in different ways and to different extents. Sexual identities are as unique as fingerprints.

So who’s to say what’s right or wrong for us, save ourselves?

Hmmm…

Story: 8.0
Acting: 8.0
Production: 7.5

Nudity: 4.0
Sexiness: 4.0
Explicitness: 4.0

Date of viewing: May 18, 2017

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