REVIEW: Young & Beautiful

14 08 2013

Jeune & JolieCannes Film Festival – Official Competition

After both years I’ve gone to Cannes, I have suffered painful withdrawals from the world’s best curated art cinema.  I find myself wanting to revisit these fascinating movies I’ve just seen but am forced to wait months on end before they see Stateside release.  (I’m still waiting to get a second helping of “The Hunt,” my favorite film of the 2012 festival.)

Strangely enough, the movie from Cannes 2013 I’ve been most anxious to see again was not my favorite film of the festival, James Gray’s immaculate “The Immigrant.”  I find myself thinking quite often about Francois Ozon’s odd “Young & Beautiful,” flaws and all.  It’s a film I can’t wait to see again because it’s so unconventional and refreshingly different.

From the moment I left the orchestra of the Lumiere Theater on that rainy Thursday afternoon, I have been trying to figure out how Francois Ozon made the peculiar concoction that is “Young & Beautiful” work at all.  I am even more perplexed as to how it managed to entrance and beguile me so fully.  Because, quite frankly, it walks a rather fine line between being provocative and being offensive.

Jeune et Jolie

Ozon begins with an odd premise: a teenage girl decides on her own volition to become a prostitute … and actually rather enjoys it.  An hour and a half later, we’re left with something that has not only all the seriousness of a dramatic character study but also all the humor of a sick and twisted dark comedy.  And I’m not talking about anything in the mold of “Pretty Woman,” where you conveniently start to forget the profession of Julia Roberts’ Vivian Ward.  Ozon has a macabre funny-bone, crafting scenarios where his protagonist wryly suggests using her income from prostitution to pay for therapy sessions meant to rehabilitate her habit.

17-year-old Isabelle is brought to the screen with uncanny precision by Marine Vacth, a model-turned-actress who has more to show off than her body.  She turns in a spectacular performance in “Young & Beautiful,” one that beautifully captures all the listlessness and uncertainty that comes with being an adolescent teetering on the brink of adulthood.  Vacth clearly elucidates Isabelle’s journey, beginning with unfulfilling intercourse with her boyfriend on a beach, where she literally watches the events removed from her own body.  (Think the iconic scene in “Annie Hall” mixed with all the wistfulness brought to mind by the phrase “within and without” from “The Great Gatsby.”)

She does, however, come to the realization that she does rather enjoy the power she holds when she enters the world’s oldest profession.  Having men willing to pay for her company actually suits her teenage fancy.  Moreover, she derives a sense of power from being the holder of the male gaze.

Ozon, remarkably, manages to withhold judgment of Isabelle in this confused and irresolute stage of her life.  We watch the tale unfold season by season over the course of a year, taking it Francoise Hardy song by Francoise Hardy song in stride with (yet also removed from) Isabelle.  Eventually, we can come to see “Young & Beautiful” as not just a sensational story but also a peculiar reflection of the quandaries that come with nascent teenage sexuality.  Such bizarre and unorthodox coexistence makes the film completely memorable, even in spite of some imperfections.  B2halfstars



2 responses

14 08 2013

Being a fan of Ozon’s work and having caught up with some films of his that I hadn’t seen, this one was definitely a film I was very anticipated to see and was glad it was getting good notices. I think he’s finally coming into something where he’s on his way to become a true master in cinema.

15 08 2013

This was the first of his films that I’d seen, and I clearly dug it. Checked out “Swimming Pool” on Netflix recently (post coming on that tomorrow, actually) and really want to dive deeper (pun fully intended) into his body of work. I hope he continues to make great stuff.

I will say, though, if these remarks gain any more traction, he could become a pariah in the community:

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