JEUNE & JOLIE (Young and Beautiful)

Few contemporary film directors can brag about a work ethic that sees them faithfully direct a film once a year in an unbroken run that seldom falls below a certain level of quality - something that happened much more often during the heyday of the studio system, but that nowadays, with no "safety net" to guarantee a continuous production. Frenchman François Ozon may benefit from the relatively stable French production system, but his films aren't always safe, straight-down-the-middle choices, even if his initial reputation as a sly provocateur has by now been superseded by a narrative and stylistic virtuosity that could be compared to a lower-key Steven Soderbergh.

     After the boulevard satire of Potiche, and the Chabrolian psychological mysteries of Dans la maison, Jeune & jolie applies Mr. Ozon's traditionally dispassionate handling to a coming-of-age tale that reminds of his earlier, brasher family-unit-defying work such as Sitcom or Swimming Pool. It's also a film that is doubly of its director: not only because of its stealthy, almost neutrally chilly, observational attitude, but because its lead character, well-off but bored middle-class teenager Isabelle, has herself a stealthy, observational attitude towards others that suggests her decision to take her own fate in her hands and to hell with the consequences could be construed as the director's own attitude towards choice of material. Marine Vacth's performance as Isabelle meshes to perfection with Mr. Ozon's determined pursuance of his own path as a filmmaker, as she loses his virginity during a Summer vacation and finds out that the same sexual instincts that too often turn women into subjects can also empower them to take control.

     Set over the course of the four seasons of a single year - Isabelle's last before crossing into adulthood - Jeune & jolie seems to take as its motto Arthur Rimbaud's celebrated poem On n'est pas sérieux quand on a 17 ans. What is striking, though, is how much Isabelle is so serious at 17, fearlessly moving into a borderline dangerous activity out of a combination of genuine youthful curiosity and mature empowerment, eschewing any sort of dishonesty or hypocrisy. Even her choice to hide this "sidebar" from her mother (Géraldine Pailhas), an over-bearing doctor who is betraying her second husband with a friend's husband, is her own decision, her own choice, and the consequences that will quickly spiral out of control will also eventually make her realize that her decision was a lot more thought out than what others want to make her out to be. It's a fascinatingly mature, utterly de-sexualized look at desire and lust as mere instruments of power, poignantly punctuated by the melancholy tunes of Françoise Hardy, as this preternaturally adult teenager learns the hard way some lessons about love and life.

France 2013
93 minutes
Cast: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling, Johan Leysen, Fantin Ravat
Director and screenwriter François Ozon; cinematography Pascal Marti (colour, widescreen); composer Philippe Rombi; designer Katia Wyszkop; costumes Pascaline Chavanne; editor Laure Gardette; producers Éric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer, Mandarin Cinéma in co-production with Mars Films, France 2 Cinéma and FOZ
Screened April 10th 2014 (distributor press screening, Medeia Monumental 1)


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