Francois Ozon’s latest film, Young and Beautiful (or Jeune & Jolie), tells the tale of a teenager named Isabelle – a headstrong young lady with a strong curiosity for all things sexual.
One night, she loses her virginity to her German boyfriend. From there on, she decides that she cannot get enough. She becomes a call girl with a fondness for older men, many of whom become regular customers. All of this goes unnoticed by her mother and step-father, who genuinely love her. She comes from an upper class family, where her mother tends to her every need. Her younger brother adores her, and has developed a fascination with sex himself.
When one of her regulars has a heart attack during sex, she quickly leaves the scene. Soon enough, the police show up at her parent’s doorstep. Isabelle is confronted about her secret lifestyle, and her mother proceeds to keep a watchful eye on her. Her mother is almost afraid to keep her in the same house as her step-father, as there are hints at a sexual tension between the two. In the meantime, Isabelle begins to see a counselor and is allowed to go to social gatherings with people her own age. She meets and falls in love with a young man, who moves in to live with her.
Still, something keeps holding Isabelle back. It is almost impossible for her to move forward. She’s matured too quickly for a girl her age. She’s seen things of the world that most of her peers have not. Will she be able to carry on a normal life? Or will she continue to prostitute herself to perfect strangers, giving in to every one of her desires? There is a perfect moment in the film, which captures her struggle perfectly. It happens during Isabelle’s first sexual encounter on the beach. As she loses her virginity, she turns her head and sees an apparition of her past self staring at her, at this erotic display. It is here that Isabelle knows that her life will never be the same. It is an ominous and haunting sequence, the mood of which hangs over the rest of the film.
Many viewers will compare Ozon’s film to Bunuel’s Belle de Jour. The two films are similar, in that they are both explorations of women who lead double lives, who act out on every carnal impulse, and who take extraordinary measures to do so, whether it be in their real lives or their fantasy lives.
Young and Beautiful is an extraordinarily disturbing film, featuring an incredibly brave performance from Marine Vacth as Isabelle. Recommended to lovers of risky cinema.