Director François Ozon has been on a bit of a run recently with last year’s post-modern In the House and the screwy 2010 comedy Potiche. He’s back at this year’s London Film Festival with another one of his mature and intriguing pictures.
Isabelle is a teenage girl from Paris. On holiday in the south of France, she blows out the candles on her 17th birthday cake before sneaking off to meet a young man with whom she’s struck up a summer romance. After losing her virginity in an experience that leaves her cold and distant, we cut forward to autumn where she’s now seen working as a prostitute after school. Exchanging text messages with older men, she meets them in hotel rooms before returning home to a pile of cash in her wardrobe.
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before she’s found out and the Police get involved, notifying her mother (Geraldine Pailhas) and stepfather (Frédéric Pierrot from TV’s The Returned). The scene where Isabelle’s mother confronts her with the truth plays out without the histrionics we’d expect from such a scene.
The idea of an underage girl selling her body is horrible but Ozon deliberately avoids assigning blame: Isabelle isn’t some hormonal nymphomaniac, her parents have provided a loving, affluent environment for her. Even Isabelle’s most regular clients aren’t shown to be monsters. The question of why Isabelle does what she does isn’t given an easy answer. Dealing with the uncomfortable topic of teenage sexuality, the film is uncommonly frank and non-judgmental treatment. Ozon doesn’t moralise but instead poses question of his own: how do we, as an audience, view Isabelle?
As the movie opens, we spy her through a set of binoculars as she remove her bikini top to sunbathe on the beach. Before we find out who the binoculars belong to, the camera lingers far too long (as do we) and we have already formed our first impression of her — as a sexual being.
To her family and friends, Isabelle is still just a girl, but to all other men she is an uncommon beauty—a prize to be won or an object to possess. For a girl like her, the transition between adolescence and adulthood is a lonely and dangerous chasm, one that her family are blind to.
23 year-old star Marine Vacht is a relative newcomer to but she’s awfully good in this, managing a role that requires great subtlety. Her aloofness and waifish demeanour could easily see her become the next Catherine Deneuve. She really is that good.
Young and Beautiful is playing at the London Film Festival on October 10, 13 and 14. Book tickets here