Taking a look at François Ozon latest film Jeune et jolie (Young and Beautiful, 2013), hitting the UK cinemas on November 29:
Casual nudity, adolescent masturbation and sex with older men – François Ozon’s latest oeuvre Jeune et jolie is not for the prude. In a peculiar coming-of-age manner we follow teen Isabelle (Marine Vacth) on her trajectory from virgin to prostitute. Told in four seasons Isabelle’s emotional journey is tied together by four chansons by Françoise Hardy; lyrically resembling the girl’s sexual development.
Cinematographer Pascal Marti’s camera lingers on the girl – when she takes off her bikini top, when she masturbates, when she has sex. The voyeuristic gaze. It’s the summer she turns 17, the summer she loses her virginity, the summer that changes her life. Sex came too early, everything lost meaning, Isabelle craves an outlet. Her seductive eyes; porcelain skin; soft hair. Satisfied men; pleasure and joy. Play becomes natural, sexual fantasies alive – until… until her cover blows.
It’s easy to judge. Luckily Isabelle is not forlorn as Hanna and Lea are in Sabine Derflinger’s Tag und Nacht (2011); the reasons for her decisions do not matter; we are not forced to take sides. And yet, one of the song’s most significant line “L’amour d’un garçon / Peut tout changer” – the love of a boy can change everything – is following up Isabelle’s first sexual disappointment, and sets a dystopian tone. We’re not asked to judge the girl for selling her body; but what about giving it away too soon? Emotional emptiness seems to be its inevitable consequence.
Jeune et jolie leaves its audience with two controversial messages. One of them echoes a pretty outdated notion of the cultural importance of female virginity, giving it more meaning than necessary. Fortunately the other prevails: sexuality is a curious thing, inviting us to play with it and talk about it. Noone will be harmed, noone will be traumatised.
In cinemas (UK): November 29, 3013