Jeune et Jolie translates easily to Young & Beautiful but let’s face it that title sounds nowhere near as artistic and classy. And artistic and classy is what you need to emphasise when you are talking about a French film about a 17-year-old prostitute. Did I mention how artistic and classy the film is?
Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is a normal teenage girl. She wants for nothing at home and has a good relationship with her younger brother, mother, and step-father (Frédéric Pierrot from The Returned). On holiday Isabelle has a summer fling with a German boy and loses her virginity in the form of some clumsy thrusting on the beach. As the act of sex occurs she imagines herself standing outside the situation and observing it from a short distance. Sex is not the big deal she had been expecting and from there she gradually learnt the way to use it for her own gain.
Jeune et Jolie is no male fantasy (so says a man), Isabelle does not suddenly become a sex expert and is almost endearing in her naivety during initial sessions as a lady of the night (or in her case late afternoon). Having only had sex herself once before Isabelle is forced to learn as she goes and glean what she can from the murkier side of the internet. There is a wonderful moment in the film in which Isabelle spots a client in public and initially hides from him. When she is spotted however it is he who hides from her, before swiftly texting to arrange another appointment. There is a moment of realisation on Isabelle’s face at this point when she learns that she holds the power over men and not the other way around. It is a subtle tipping point but one which likely changes her forever and is seen only on the face of the lead actress.
Things go awry for Isabelle a few months into her new career and she experiences every teen prostitute’s worst fear; her parents find out. The fallout from this is heartbreaking and hilarious to watch as her parents struggle to deal with this new reality and female friends of her parents suddenly don’t want to leave their husbands alone with her. The film ends beautifully after having wrong footed me more than once and allows you to question for yourself the morality of this young woman.
Despite the subject matter writer/director François Ozon does not take advantage of the situation in order to litter the film with extended sex scenes. Sex is obviously at the heart of this film but scenes are kept short and are shot in an artistic rather than exploitative fashion. There is a lot more to the film than sex, this is a character study about a young woman discovering her worth in the world and Marine Vacth puts in a strong lead performance.
Jeune et Jolie is in UK cinemas on 29th November 2013.