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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.16.13] France drama



Over the last few years I've really come to appreciate and even love François Ozon's work. The director, one of the most prolific in current French cinema, returns to familiar territory with a tale of female coming of age in Young & Beautiful.

Relative newcomer Marine Vacth stars as Isabelle, as the title suggest, a young and beautiful 17 year old. While on summer vacation, she loses her virginity to a handsome German boy who leaves himself satiated and her completely deflated. It's a typical "first time" experience but one that Isabelle, completely unsatisfied with, decides to fix. Upon her return to the city, she devises a plan for expanding her sexual horizon: she sets up an online profile and begins selling herself out for 300€ a pop.


It's clear that Isabelle is not doing it for the money (her family is well to do and she wants for nothing) and though she's clearly taking this course of action for her own reasons, those reasons are never clearly revealed. Her choice of clients, combined with her poor first sexual experience, suggest that she's interested in older men, men she equates with extensive sexual experience, who can provide her with something a young lover can't. It could be argued that her choice of older men could have some deep psychological tie to her father who we never meet and only learn about in passing (the divorce was friendly, the family still talks). Either reading could be accurate, all that's certain is that she has her own reasons, reasons that are only hinted at and never fully explained.

Some will say that this vagueness is a fault in Young & Beautiful, that lack of explanation along with the fact that in Isabelle's world, the worst that happens to a call girl is that a man comes all over her back and then refuses to let her shower. Isabelle's escort escapades are certainly far tamer than the horror stories that usually pepper these movies but there are hints here and there that Isabelle's experience could easily take a turn for the bad but I had the feeling watching Young & Beautiful that Ozon was less interested in the potential trouble escort life could bring and far more curious about what would drive a young woman into this type of life (and for once, she's not forced into it but rather chooses to partake of that sexual experience of her own free will). She's not crazy or stupid or desperate (though a case could be argued for each of those based on Isabelle's actions) but it's refreshing to see a confident young woman who knows what she wants (varied sex with experienced lovers) and is unafraid to seek it.

I had some trouble with how lose Ozon is with the consequences of Isabelle's actions and I have some reservations about using Young & Beautiful as a "great" interpretation of sexual discovery in movies but in a trope that is often inhabited by girls and young women who don't know what they want and find themselves at the mercy of men's ideas and actions, it's refreshing to see a movie with a strong female protagonist who knows exactly what she wants and isn't afraid to go out and take it. Ozon's movie isn't creepy, a huge concern considering this very intimate story of a woman's coming of age is written and directed by a man, but Ozon is very much in tune with Isabelle and the character is never objectified.

I thoroughly enjoyed Young & Beautiful and though I can easily see how some might find Ozon's take too rosy, I really loved Vacth's performance and Ozon's interpretation of a character we've seen a million times before; recommended though with a few reservations.

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