Jeune et Jolie gives away little enough to be enigmatic as Marine Vacth’s engaging and truthful performance plays well with an uneasy story of innocence lost.
The first time we lay eyes on 17-year-old Isabelle, played by fantastic newcomer Marine Vacth, it is seeing her sunbathing topless on a pebbled beach through the eyes of her prepubescent brother, aided by binoculars. This introduction sets the voyeuristic tone for the rest of the movie and while there is plenty of sexually-charged content, the voyeurism is more interested in humanity and the choices we all make than raw sexuality.
The choices in this case are those of Isabelle who, following a brief summer fling with a German crush, loses her virginity on the shore where we first saw her. Far from the fireworks we’re taught to expect from such a milestone, Isabelle shows no emotion beyond a stoic desire to get the job done. We are even shown a vision of Isabelle watching herself in the moment, silently observing and judging proceedings.
This detachment follows our lead throughout Jeune et Jolie. The implications of the ambivalence are left open to our interpretation, is Isabelle using everyone else to her own benefit, being used herself as an innocent and naive 17-year-old, or some combination of the two? And what are the reasons behind her actions, is she simply bored? A budding genius with no outlet? Or is she a typical teenager who manages to fall down a rabbit hole?
These questions all develop as Isabelle decides to embark on a new hobby as a high-end hooker going by the name of Lea, purporting to be 20-years-old and charging €300 per session. She enlists on an escort website, uploading several provocative pictures of herself and even purchases a second phone with which to conduct her business. There is certainly no blame attached to any party here, she has a close and loving family, albeit with their own share of problems akin to any normal family, a seemingly good education and all of her clients are viewed honestly enough, even when they are being dishonest in their actions.
One thing that we do know is that these encounters fill Isabelle with a budding sense of power, as displayed in a scene where she sees one of her Johns out in the wild and realises that he has more to lose from uncovering their previous meetings than she does. But juxtaposed to this power trip are still glimpses of a regular insecure teenage girl as she thoroughly and compulsively scrubs herself clean after every sordid interaction.
The story comes to a head after one meeting with a client where everything finally begins to fall away around Isabelle. The way in which she deals with this again leaves a lot to be interpreted by the viewer themselves.
A lot of credit has to go to director François Ozon. The honest and simple camerawork and lighting filters allow the film to have an organic and yet detached feel, and while there is plenty of ‘glamour’, there is certainly no Hollywood sheen. Towards the final third of the picture, there are hints that we’re going to be spoon-fed a conclusion where one isn’t required, but rest assured, Isabelle and the film as a whole are a conundrum right to the end.
The performances are solid from the entire cast but Vacth steals the show. In the lead role she effortlessly grabs your attention whenever she’s on screen, the only time I felt she was usurped was when Charlotte Rampling popped up for a slightly peculiar cameo at the end of the film, and while I don’t think the scene was entirely necessary, it did no harm to the good work done up to that point.
This is the kind of film which I like, where you’re dropped into a life then unceremoniously pulled away again, left only with your own thoughts and co nclusions as you exit the cinema. While there are many flaws you could find in Jeune et Jolie, it is certainly an engaging and well executed turn from the accomplished Ozon.