Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published May 6th 2014
Francois Ozon in fine form
Director: Francois Ozon (In the House, Swimming Pool, 8 Women, 2 x 2) Cast: Marine Vacth, Geraldine Pailhas, Frederic Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling
As the title suggests, cinematic icon Francois Ozon returns to two of his favourite subjects, youth and beauty, in this fascinating study of teenage girl from the right side of the tracks turning to the world's oldest profession for less than obvious reasons.
When we first meet Isabelle, she is on the cusp of a romance with German student Felix, but once the dalliance is consummated she quickly loses interest, seemingly disillusioned with the carnal experience. Rather than withdraw from men however, Isabelle goes in the other direction, surreptitiously becoming a high class hooker for older businessmen.
Since the 60s when Catherine Deneuve turned tricks in Bunuel's Belle de Jour, the topic of prostitution has been a mainstay in French cinema. Ozon, however, is not one to re-tread the paths of others. He has always shown a great fascination for the human form, both male and female, but Young and Beautiful is more than just an exercise in voyeurism.
Mother and daughter Sylvie (Geraldine Pailhas) and Isabelle
The story becomes especially interesting once the inevitable happens and Isabelle's secret double life is revealed. It's then that the relationship between her and her mother is more closely examined, and the reasons for our heroine's provocative occupational choice are explored.
Marine Vecth is quite a revelation as Isabelle, exuding an icy elegance and natural beauty reminiscent of Emmanuelle Beart. Geraldine Pailhas and Frederic Pierrot are also excellent as Isabelle's mother and stepfather, but Ozon regular Charlotte Rampling steals the show in a sly cameo.
Another of Ozon's pet themes is the blurring of lines between reality and imagination, and he can't resist a cheeky tip of the hat in that direction in a key scene here.
Young and Beautiful is rated R due to its frank treatment of sexual themes, but is by no means a cheap, sensational attempt at titillation. Ozon is an elegant filmmaker interested in the psychology of his characters, in this case a teenage girl's realisation of her power over others and the dynamics of the complex relationship she has with her mother.
Fans of the director will likely lap it up, although the subject and relaxed pacing will likely restrict this to the Francois faithful.