Jeune & jolie (2013)

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The mystery film at this year’s Cornwall Film Festival was the highly anticipated latest film from acclaimed French director François Ozon.

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Jeune & jolie, translated as Young and Beautiful, focuses on gorgeous  17 year old Isabelle (Marine Vacth), who strategically loses her virginity on a family summer holiday and uses this, along with her beauty, to develop a side-line in high end prostitution.  Isabelle is from a wealthy family, she is studying, has everything she wants and so the mystery becomes why has she decided to do this.

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The film is divided into four seasons , beginning with summer, and we gradually see how she becomes involved in this business. Even upon her family finding out about this, we still aren’t really given an insight into why she has chosen to do this, as it certainly isn’t for the money, which she stashes in her bedroom cupboard, the pile increasing rapidly. As one character in the film describes, she is strange and unlike most girls, and it is this enigma that drives the film.

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As to be expected there are sexually explicit scenes, which naturally are necessary for depicting what Isabelle is doing, and for a French arthouse film they actually feel quite tame. Themes of adolescence and sexual awakening run through the film, which is extremely subtle, offering no answers. The serious tone of Jeune & jolie is perhaps a little too serious and could benefit from more humour. One scene where the step father catches Isabelle’s younger brother pleasuring himself and then hears Isabelle climaxing provides a nice bit of humour and the younger brother as a confidant does help to add a different dynamic to the film but is unfortunately lost in the seriousness.

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Most of Ozon’s films are memorable and distinctive but for some reason Jeune & jolie was quite the opposite. It did feel like there wasn’t quite enough depth to the character, but then this, one feels, is an intentional move from Ozon, providing a mysterious character for us to try and deconstruct and figure out, but still it feels like something is missing. This is a simple tale, with four songs assigned to the four seasons, and whilst Isabelle is intriguing she is perhaps not as charismatic or likeable as she should be in order to make the film memorable.

What drives Jeune & jolie is the mystery of Isabelle and we do develop an understanding of the character but there is a lack of empathy towards her, the perspective is always from the outside looking in, which is one Ozon has used in many of his films, but here I feel it doesn’t quite work.

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Charlotte Rampling has an uncomfortable cameo which attempts to condone and give reason to what Isabelle is doing, but just feels awkward and out of place. Marine Vacth is strong as the lead but whether it is the direction, writing or acting, something doesn’t feel right and perhaps that is the intention. Other roles are also acted sufficiently but are again unmemorable.

This is certainly not Ozon at his best, but it is still an interesting film that is worth watching.

Jeune & Jolie is released in cinemas on 29th November 2013.

Director: François Ozon
Writer: François Ozon
Stars: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot
Runtime: 95 mins
Country: France

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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