François Ozon, the bad boy of French cinema, is back in his utterly marvellous form in the Croisette after a decade, following last year’s adroit and engaging Dans la Maison with this honest, provocative, affecting and darkly comic coming-out-of-a-sexually-charged-teenage-phase drama of a beautiful bourgeois 17-year old prostitute. Jeune et Jolie, or more appropriately the title I’ve invented, The Making of a Sad Yet Beautiful Underage Whore, goes for an unfussy cinematic rigour with Ozon dropping much of the meta-textual mind-fucking interplay he employed in his previous work Maison. Here, he simply charts the personal journey of Isabelle (Lea to her clients) through four seasons and four chansons, as she morphs from disheartened virgin to a fully-pledged, upper-class hooker who sleeps with men old enough to be her grandfather.
It borders gratuitously close to familiar territory littered with those pedestrian narratives about the double lives of call girls – but this is so much more, wittily traversing between emotional detachment and candid sexuality that’s very French. The way Isabelle casually ditches her transient boyfriends for the thrill of clandestine hotel room trysts is alarming at first, but makes perfect psychological sense in light of her discovery about truths and relationships in her own messed-up way. Actress and model Marine Vacht (a stunning beauty with a remarkable talent, giving the aura of a young Juliette Binoche) portrays Isabelle as a youthful yet coolly withdrawn nymphette whose disappointment with her first sexual experience leads to her inability to emotionally connect with boys her age. An absent father is hinted at, but Ozon sidesteps an easy answer and opts for the ambiguity in Isabelle’s motivations. Even at its conclusion when Charlotte Rampling makes an appearance, Ozon makes a subtle statement about the prisms of female sexuality these two women occupy between a vast gulf of age difference.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: François Ozon | CAST: Marine Vacth, Laurent Delbecque, Johan Leysen | SCREENPLAY: François Ozon | PRODUCER: Mandarin Films | RUNNING-TIME: 95 mins | GENRE: Drama | COUNTRY: France