Do you want to watch a 21-year-old supermodel play a 17-year-old teenager discovering her sexuality by becoming a prostitute and having hot naked sex with strange men in expensive hotel rooms? You do? No kidding? Okay, then. You might want to watch the new movie by French writer/director François Ozon, Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie).
We meet 16-year-old, impossibly thin and hot Isabelle (Marine Vacth, a model in real life (if we may call ‘being a model’ ‘real life’)) while on summer vacation with her family. The opening shot is of Isabelle taking off her bikini and sunbathing naked. French movie, remember. Soon she meets a boring German boy and lets him have sex with her after a party on the beach. It’s her first time. She seems not to enjoy it much, nor to have any interest in the German. Next day, her family celebrates her 17th birthday. This section plays like a standard young-girl’s-sexual-awakening movie, European style. She’s a got charming little brother she confides in. A nice mother and a frumpy stepfather. Everyone’s pleasant, though Isabelle is reserved and distant in a very teenage sort of way.
The movie is divided into four sections, one for each season of a year. We cut now to FALL, and find that Isabelle is selling herself on the internet for 300 Euros a pop. She screws a nice old guy, a creepy younger guy, some other guys. She’s more or less blank-faced about the whole thing. The worst thing that happens to her is the creepy guy won’t let her take a shower.
Let’s pause for a moment to compliment the look of the movie. The lighting is superb, which is becoming more and more uncommon in the age of digital cinema. In the U.S. when we see a small movie like this, it’s always made on the cheap and looks it. Ozon, on the other hand, is a man who knows how to make every image count, and not in a flashy way. It’s subtle, what he’s doing, so that a simple shot of two people sitting on a sofa has the perfect balance of light and dark, of colors, of mood.
Likewise, when his hot model/actress writhes naked atop the old john in his expensive hotel room, you can’t help but think, gosh—that looks nice (I admit there may be competing reasons inspiring this thought). You also can’t help but think, that guy’s pretty old, I bet this is one of those movies where the old guy has a heart attack while she’s screwing him. Which it is. The old guy has a heart attack, and Isabelle gets out of the hotel room fast.
This leads to WINTER, and her family learning about her whoring ways. What did they do wrong? Mom and Isabelle can’t connect. It’s like any teenager girl/mother relationship. Mostly. Isabelle is forced to face the consequences of her actions. Which consequences are…I guess that she can’t keep her whoring money? And has see a nice psychologist?
She must face the hard questions, at the very least. Will she cease her whoring? Will she learn an important lesson about her own sexuality? Will she start a relationship with that nice boy in her class at the Sorbonne, where she’s studying literature?
Let’s pause to compliment the French-ness of the movie, in that there is no expositional dialogue, no big speeches, nothing telling the audience what to think or feel. Isabelle never says much. We’re left to study her face (among other parts of her body). The end of the movie comes as it must, in about as low-key a way as possible, with the implication of a circle closed, a year-in-the-life ending, and new possibilities on the horizon. It’s the kind of ending you find in a short story, whereupon arriving at a small but significant emotional moment, it ends.
Moving on to the non-complimentary, there’s something rather thin about Young & Beautiful. It’s an awfully male view of female sexuality. Maybe if the actress playing Isabelle hadn’t been quite so model-perfect. Maybe if being a prostitute had introduced her to anything besides a nice man in an expensive hotel room (yes, his dying is mildly traumatic, but I have to imagine the actual life of a teenage prostitute is somewhat more complicated). Maybe if the whole excercise hadn’t felt quite so pointlessly voyeuristic. Maybe if, salaciousness aside, the story had been any different from a hundred other European coming-of-age movies. Maybe then it would have a reason for being. As it is, it will nicely fill a certain art-house hole, and nothing more.
Does your naked-French-teenage-supermodel-prostitute-art-house hole need filling? In that case, my friend, this is the movie for you.