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Jeune & jolie
Young & Beautiful
★★★☆☆
First run Theater cinema

Young & Beautiful is the type of cinematic fantasy-version of a young girl’s sexual awakening that only the French can get away with. Yet as titillating and voyeuristically contrived as the picture may seem at first, there is something unmistakably honest and subtle in the restrained, observational style of writer/director François Ozon (known for suspenseful erotic pictures like 2003’s Swimming Pool and 2012’s In the House). Twenty-three-year-old Marine Vacth delivers a knockout central performance as seventeen-year-old Isabelle, who, underwhelmed with the experience of loosing her virginity on a family vacation, begins to lead a double life as a prostitute upon returning to Paris. Isabelle’s encounters with older men are fairly safe, routine and banal, yet they hold a mysterious fascination that keeps her working despite the fact that she doesn’t need the money. 

As in many of his previous pictures, Ozon explores the adolescent mind through his young character’s behavior and the various reactions from his adult characters. Isabelle becomes adept in the art of seduction and the mechanics of intercourse, but never really learns much about sex. Vacth commands the screen like a seasoned pro, dominating every frame whether she’s dressed or undressed, and Ozon surrounds her with an outstanding supporting cast who make lasting impressions without ever establishing their character’s personalities beyond their relationship to her. Especially effective are Géraldine Pailhas as Isabelle’s mother, Fantin Ravat as her little brother, and Charlotte Rampling in a powerful cameo. The film’s minimal narrative makes no judgments and offers no answers; it barely even raises the question of why Isabelle does what she does. This restrained approach and the elegant way the picture is photographed and edited make its central character far more than an objectified young woman. Ozon deftly explores how youth and beauty are commoditized in contemporary society and how young people become aware of this fact. These perceptions are never heavy-handed or agenda-driven, but they’re undeniable; we become transfixed by Isabelle as she discovers the raw power of being young and beautiful, and we fear for the fragility of that state.

Directed by François Ozon
Produced by Eric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer

Written by François Ozon

With: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, Nathalie Richard, Djedje Apali, Lucas Prisor, Laurent Delbecque, Jeanne Ruff, Carole Franck, Olivier Desautel, Serge Hefez, and Charlotte Rampling

Cinematography: Pascal Marti
Editing: Laure Gardette
Music: Philippe Rombi

Runtime: 95 min
Release Date: 21 August 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color