Hot on the heels of the highly acclaimed In the House (2012), suddenly prolific French auteur François Ozon returned last year with coming-of-ager Jeune & Jolie (2013), an engaging if overly diminutive story of a teenager’s blossoming sexuality set over four seasons. Having previously explored the combined mores, difficulties and ordinariness of sex and sexuality throughout his body of work, Ozon, after a string of features focusing on a more adult set of characters and situations (namely his piercing 2010 satire Potiche), returns to depictions of youths facing drastic turning points in their lives, in this case adolescence developing into inevitable maturity.
The glacial Marine Vacth plays Isabelle who, whilst on a family holiday and on the eve of her 18th birthday, experiences her first sexual encounter with someone for whom she has very little interest in. Left unsatisfied by the experience and subsequently shunning all advances from her maiden conquest, Isabelle returns to her hometown of Paris and, by autumn, begins supplementing her indifferent approach to school with a dangerous, independent new career as a prostitute. Operating from a profile on a clandestine escort website and going by the pseudonym ‘Lea’, whose mature dress code and demeanour contrast with her actual tender age, Isabelle becomes more ingrained within her secret life as a high-class sex worker.
Similar to Ozon’s earlier, more alluring study of sensual awakening in Swimming Pool (2003) – albeit with a more explicit emphasis on innocence lost – Jeune & Jolie works best when attempting to register Isabelle’s internal discontent and contrasting it with the conventions and expectations of her age. Underpinning her double life is a disinterest with the various immaturities of adolescence, captured in a scene at a party where Isabelle drifts from room to room, strolling indifferently past drunken revellers. It’s only when, in the later stages of the film when she strikes up a relationship with someone her age, that she’s reminded of the intoxicating validation of prostitution, however disregarding she is of the monetary gain. “Once a whore, always a whore”, a john reminds her.
Though sharing similarities to Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013), which it competed with for the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Ozon’s latest conveys none of Abdellatif Kechiche’s nuance, instead heavy-handedly overlaying its themes and central, intimate theses by using a selection of Françoise Hardy songs, which distractedly punctuate the film with their overstressed, melancholy lyrics. At a trim 90 minutes, Jeune & Jolie breezes by but fails to explore certain aspects of its protagonist’s psyche, in particular the effects of an absent father and Sylvie’s potential infidelity, though Ozon’s cinematic confidence makes it on the whole watchable but largely unmemorable.
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