François Ozon points the lens at bourgeois desire through the eyes of a young Parisian student and her complicated relationship with sex and prostitution.
It’s a lazy summer, and seventeen year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is on holiday at the ocean with her family, participating in a daily routine of siestas, meals on the terrace and the beach. Always pensive, she moves from afternoons into evenings, detached and ‘elsewhere’.
One evening, after a period of awkward flirting with a German boy, whom appears to bore her, she decides to lose her virginity. It’s an awkward, unfulfilling experience, similar to Suzanne’s (Sandrine Bonnaire) experience in Maurice Pialat’s A Nos Amours.
This scene is memorable because Ozon shows Isabelle’s emotional detachment from her sexual experience by filming her as her own voyeur. She stands on the sand a short distance away, watching herself with the German boy. Neither pleasured, not nervous, Isabel is indifferent. She’s just cooly fascinated by what she is doing.
At the end of August. Isabelle takes her indifference and fascination back to Paris and starts a secret life. She attends school in the day and works as a prostitute in the afternoons. In the evening she’s back at home doing her homework, eating dinner with her family, or going to the theatre.
A few months later, a job with a client goes wrong and throws Isabelle off her game. The police investigation and CCTV footage reveal her activities and she is forced back into a normal life which she finds difficult to manage.
Jeune & Jolie is a singular tale. Ozon is not interested in moral judgment, the ‘whys’ or the blame. Interestingly, Isabelle doesn’t spend the money she makes. She hides it in a clothes cupboard.
Is this because Isabele doesn’t need the cash, or is Ozon telling us she is a prostitute for a different reason? Like Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour, Isabelle is intrigued by the power of her own allure. Her beauty (which is exceptional), her youth and how men respond to her.
Vacth’s performance is mesmerising. Her regard and expressions, and unknowable thoughts behind them, are shot as though they are private conversation with the camera.
This is a smart manipulation from Ozon. The viewer is the voyeur, privy to edited moments of Isabelle’s brave sexual education. The camera is our hole in the hotel wall. It’s a strange position but not a comfortable one, and it keeps us wondering what Ozon wants to communicate through Isabelle.
Ozon’s films are known for their light expose of bourgeois values and behaviour. Jeune & Jolie is more than an emotionally cold seventeen year-old sleeping with men for money.
Is Ozon suggesting something deeper here, that the bourgeoise prefer voyeurism to love: Of themselves, like Isabel, and others, like the viewer? Feeling safer detached in their sexuality, than the wide-open field of falling in love?
Director: François Ozon (2013)