The title of Francois Ozon’s new film ‘Jeune et Jolie ‘could be the title of a Francoise Hardy song from the late sixties, full of wistful desires and longings.
In fact it starts in territory not so very far away from this in the form of a holiday romance in a sultry southern French beach town. It’s the kind of thing that the French have specialized in for decades but about a quarter of the way through the film takes a turn that I was not expecting.
For the young and beautiful woman of the title, 17-year-old Isabelle, played by the exceptionally young and beautiful Marine Vacth, decides after losing her virginity in unprepossessing fashion to a German, to become a whore.
The explanation for her behavior escapes all those in the film that try to analysis it, from her parents to her therapist to Isabelle herself. She has money, a loving family and a great future to look forward to in the Parisian middle-class, yet none of these things act as a brake on her prostitution.
Only in the films ultimate scene, where she comes into contact with a wife of a deceased client played by Charlotte Rampling, does explanation give way to empathy. We even begin to see that her actions have given her a far deeper understanding of the true nature of the relationships between men and women than any of those that surround her.
Her mother may condemn her but she is having an affair with a family friend. Indeed everyone involved in any kind of relationship in ‘Jeune et Jolie’ has to confront both it’s fragility and temporariness. Like life itself, love can not endure for long in this world.
Isabelle worldview might be jaded and distant but it is not dishonest. She sees clearly how people need to put faith in the notion of an eternal romance but knows from her observances of her married clients that all we can really hope for are fleeting moments of tenderness.
Indeed in the last shots of the film she Isabelle waking up in a hotel room alone after a moment of connection.
I should imagine that the very nature of this film coupled to its highly voyeuristic view of female sexuality (Isabelle is always being observed even by her brother) won’t endear it too much to feminists but personally I take a contrary view. I think the film accurately depicts the modern condition for young women in a highly pornographic culture where any behavior becomes permissible.
Isabelle maybe a coveted ‘object’ throughout the film but she is the only one who learns anything, bar the widowed Rampling character.