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Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful) by François Ozon

December 29, 2013

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François Ozon – thirteen years after Water Drops on Burning Rocks – returns to explore sexual awakening and its consequences, it is a familiar theme all along his oeuvre, nonetheless the story of Isabelle (Marine Vacth) will make many viewers think of Pialat (À Nos Amours) or Buñuel (Belle de Jour): in a way Jeune & Jolie blends the teenager restfulness of the first with the enigmatic personality of the second; then just like in Gouttes d’Eau sur Pierres brûlantes Ozon recurs here to Françoise Hardy: four songs punctuate Isabelle’s story and getting the sense of the lyrics is quite essential (Spotify link to the soundtrack). The film opens echoing Ozon’s own Dans la Maison when we see Isabelle alone on the beach going topless through the voyeuristic binoculars of a boy, one scene later another typical Ozon trait emerges when we discover that the young spy is Isabelle’s brother: ambiguous situations where you don’t grasp if the scene is serious or funny, safe or scary, it is not a game (not only at least) Ozon is playing with the audience, real life is ambiguous, if you want to tell a resonant story its ambiguity can’t be left out of it.

jolie

Jeune & Jolie is not a film about teenager prostitution – her parents own a beautiful summer house and she is a pupil at the most prestigious lycée in Paris – but it is a film about the mystery and the consequences of a transforming body, the way such transformation changes the person inhabiting it, the persons around her and the rules of their relationship.  What does it mean to be seventeen? Ozon gives us a beautiful scene where Isabelle and her classmates comment a poem by RimbaudNo One’s Serious at Seventeen – but the times have changed from Rimbaud’s time and so have the teenagers, while Isabelle walks to catch the subway she passes by an ad with a woman’s mouth with lipstick which takes an entire wall: you have to be serious when you are seventeen nowadays, because the world is looking at you, you are a customer, a client and a sexual being, disturbing times nurture disturbed people? In her first major role Marine Vacth is quite effective playing Isabelle, she is distant and her motivations are difficult to understand – returning to the two films mentioned above Vacth is more Deneuve than Bonnaire – Fantin Ravat is quite impressive playing Isabelle’s brother, but every casting choice looks inspired here and Ozon plays even a very cinephile trick with the memorable appearance of Stefano Cassetti/Roberto Succo, because let’s face it: Ozon is an a**h***, but his visual and intellectual provocations arise from the needs of the story, that’s why I love his cinema.

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