19 November 2013

François Ozon’s ‘Jeune & Jolie’

François Ozon seems to work on an annual cycle like Woody Allen, so this is the third post here about one of his films. Jeune & Jolie (Young and Beautiful) is une autre paire de manches from Potiche and In the House and has more in common with the darker Under the Sand (Sous le sable) and Swimming Pool of a decade ago.

The film follows a year in the life of a 17-year old Parisienne, Isabelle (Marine Vacth), spread over four seasons, each introduced with a song by Françoise Hardy (at 69 perhaps not that well-known to French teenagers). It starts in summer when Isabelle loses her virginity during the family holiday in the south of France, and then moves to Paris. In the autumn she embarks on a career as an amateur call girl working the smart hotels. In the winter, it all goes horribly wrong but there is some sense of eventual redemption in the closing shot of the Pont des Arts in the spring, festooned as it is with lovers’ padlocks.

Perhaps it was the numerous scenes of Isabelle having sex with much older men, likely to appeal to middle-aged male film critics, that led to such acclaim as Jeune & Jolie has received so far. I couldn’t help feeling that the plot was improbable for various reasons. Firstly, Isabelle attends a leading Paris lycée, Henri-IV, singled out by Peter Gumbel as one of the top five in France preparing students for admission to the grandes écoles. The workload must be horrendous and, one might think, leave little time for freelance escort work. Secondly, Isabelle and her family, who don’t have much regard for each other’s privacy, live in a small apartment but somehow she manages to equip herself for her secret life. Setting herself up as a pute using her laptop and the internet is as unlikely as the Paris police having a global lead in facial recognition technology of about 10 years.

Having said all that, Ozon attended Henri-IV and filmed there on location, so perhaps Isabelle is based on a real case which was the talk of the 5th and 6th arrondissements a few years back. Somehow I doubt it, but certainly Henri-IV pupils appear with Vacth reciting Roman by Rimbaud, seemingly (but what do I know) the Holden Caulfield of French poetry. The poem, which begins On n’est pas sérieux quand on a dix sept ans, can be found in translation here with the original. I felt that if Ozon’s film had spent less time on sex scenes and more exploring Rimbaud’s proposition that When you are seventeen you aren't really serious, it would have been far better. The psychology of a girl whose libido is not matched by her self-respect and the ambiguities of her relationship with her step-father and (step-?) brother are not really explored. The session she has with a shrink (and pays for from her earnings – who says the French aren’t pragmatic) is one of the better parts of the film, as is the cameo appearance of Charlotte Rampling, memorable in Under the Sand and Swimming Pool. Vacth’s performance in what must have been at times a very demanding role should guarantee her presence in films to come, but no sign of them yet on IMDb.


I didn't realise, but it's not just the Pont des Arts that's festooned with padlocks, another 10 as well - see this article in the Guardian by Agnès Poirier.

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