Jeune et Jolie
*SPOILER ALERT!!! – for those who haven’t seen the movie, this review contains spoilers)*
‘Jeune et Jolie’
– Director: François Ozon
Starring: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Johan Leysen, Charlotte Rampling
*Judita’s Score: 5.5/10 *
– I don’t really feel it is possible to write a detailed analysis of the intricacies of this film, simply because it wasn’t that intricate. The best way to sum up my opinion of Jeune et Jolie would be to do so with broad strokes.
The cast was well assembled. Particular praise goes to Marine Vacht, who at 23 managed to convincingly portray the role of the archetypal ingénue (at 16 years old to be exact) embarking on a voyage of sexual discovery. It made me think of Leslie Caron, who played the role of Gigi when she was a mother. I guess some French women just age well! I particularly liked the dynamic between the characters of Isabelle and her brother Victor. Their acting together was both touching and credible on screen. The cast also boasted a truly enjoyable cameo by Charlotte Rampling, which was a great example of “scene stealing” 101. It was just a shame that such a talent was wasted on a scene that ended up adding to nothing short of an exercise in the redundant. She appears in the final, and arguably most crucial, scene in the movie and it had the potential to provide a finale of dramatic proportion. Alas one’s dreams were dashed and the scene fell flat, arriving at no clear conclusion, forcing one to ask “why have the scene at all?”
The plot in and of itself is a good one but the narrative and its execution create the elephant in the room and the downfall of the movie. The whole film centres on the story of Isabelle and her burgeoning sexuality as she becomes a woman. We see her evolve from timid and unsure of herself to increasingly predatory around men. There are scenes where she seems to taunt the women close to the men she sets her sights on, with that sexuality. Is this because she is growing in sexual confidence or because it is another way of tormenting a mother she is clearly resentful of? This is a question that is never clearly answered. We see the effects of her behaviour but no explanation as to the motivation behind it. If the protagonist’s story has no resolution it therefore has no purpose. Why did she do what she did? What did she get out of it? These are essential questions that require answers in order to prevent a movie like this from being condemned to the category of soft porn in “Art House” clothing.
Knowing why she chose to go to such sexual extremes would drive home the gravitas of a somewhat tragic story. A young girl finds she is emotionally incapable of making a true connection with anyone other than her younger brother. As a result she pursues a life devoid of all closeness beyond the carnal. Bear in mind that these are conclusions I have drawn myself and not ones corroborated by the film, cue frustration!
Isabelle’s first sexual encounter is on a beach with the young Felix, during the family’s summer vacation. It is portrayed on screen as an out of body experience for her. There is a visual dichotomy of self and soul with her physical self laid out on the beach with Felix on top of her and her mental self standing and watching it all happen as though it were someone else. This is a person, a young girl for that matter, who at what should be one of the most important moments in her life fails to be emotionally present. She is completely incapable of engaging with what is happening to her own body. Tackling a topic like this could potentially have created a very interesting and insightful film. However, it needed and equally insightful conclusion to make all that had come before it have context and poignancy. At the end of the day, in my humble opinion, a story without meaning is a riddle and I don’t pay £14 per ticket and buy popcorn to watch riddles.
This is what I find difficult to wrap my head around. I’m going to attempt to place myself in Isabelle’s shoes now. So I am by all accounts a normal girl. I have a mother, strained though our relationship may be, a step-father, a brother I clearly love and confide in, a home, friends and a functional social life. However, with all of that I wake up one day, brush my teeth, comb my hair, have a shower, do my stretches and become a prostitute! Hmmm … ok … survey says, something doesn’t add up. Granted from the depiction of her first sexual encounter she clearly suffers from an incapacity for emotional involvement with love making. So perhaps a desire to remove all emotion from sex was what attracted her to a life as a call girl. The only problem with that theory is that when she does seem to make an unexpected connection with one of her older clients, Georges, there is no clarification of what that connection is or why it happened. Did she love him? Did he fill a paternal void within her? Did she finally find a sexual emotional connection with him? She is clearly moved by his death so it is suggested to us that he had an effect on her that no one else did, but WHY? Again, who knows? I had hoped that the scene with Charlotte Rampling, who played the wife of Georges, would provide the revelation filled denouement to solve all the riddles that had built up throughout the film. Instead we were left with a big old anti-climax. They should rename this movie POURQUOI? At least then one would have a better idea of what they were in for.
Overall Jeune et Jolie is well cast, well acted and visually well crafted but with a poorly executed narrative. So if you have a spare couple of hours, with literally nothing else to do with yourself, watch the film; but if you want me to formulate a compelling argument as to why you should do so, sadly that lies beyond the realm of the possible.