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Cornerhouse Pick of the Week: Jeune et Jolie

Many may find François Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie, just a little bit ridiculous. On the surface it performs its stereotypical duties as a French movie perfectly. Sections of the film divided by the music of Françoise Hardy, cigarette smoke billowing out of Parisian windows, self reflection and sensuality. If this film was, as it may appear, about sex and prostitution then it fails to answer many questions about these subjects. Marine Vacth, who plays the films lead Isabelle, is perfectly positioned as both vulnerable yet disarmingly beautiful, yet her escapades as a call girl result in her learning very little about the dark side of the sex trade.

The films emotional stakes are also strangely muted. When her mother and step father are made aware of Isabelle’s practices, the drama doesn’t change in pace as one would expect. Instead they absorb the information, and build it into their complex familial dynamic. It was at this point in the film that I, watching on, realised that perhaps it wasn’t a movie about sex at all – rather a movie about age. Isabelle is a 17 year old who decides to become a prostitute after a rather disappointing holiday romance. From this point on, all the men she sleeps with are far older than she is. The value they see in her is shallow, her youthful beauty and purity. Yet this dynamic reflects poorly on her clients in her encounters with them. Her innocence makes them seem far older and more grotesque. Even the more sympathetic client, Georges, who we learn enough about to almost like, appears sallow skinned and selfish.

Yet Isabelle’s youth and beauty is not always portrayed as innocent. The older female characters view it as something altogether more dangerous. Her mother does not understand where she went wrong, and even becomes jealous when she overhears a flirtatious exchange involving her husband (Isabelle’s step father). Family friends become equally nervous around her, not wanting to leave Isabelle alone with their partners. She becomes a constant threat; no longer naive, now knowing.

Isabelle’s trajectory is one of skewed maturity. Towards the beginning of the film Isabelle’s mother tells her that she too was rebellious in her youth. At this point her mother has no idea that her daughter is a prostitute and is merely hoping to encourage her to get out more. She wants rebellion, but within reason. As an audience we are similarly fooled by the beginning of the film that shows Isabelle in a suit, gliding through a hotel foyer. She looks older, with make up and formal clothing. At a glance it would appear that this is perhaps two or three years later, showing Isabelle in a career. We then discover that the time passed is only a matter of weeks. This new level of sophistication makes our previous assumptions hard to recognise. Much like the seemingly ridiculous French film about sex, that matures beyond recognition.

Tags: Francois Ozon, French Cinema, Jeune et Jolie, Marine Vacth, prostitution

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