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CANNES 2013 Competition

Young and Beautiful: Is she really bad inside ?


- French director François Ozon offers the Cannes competition an initiatory account both bold and moving about the awakening of sexuality through prostitution

Young and Beautiful: Is she really bad inside ?

To succeed with Young and Beautiful [+see also:
interview: François Ozon
film profile
, French director François Ozon firstly had to make sure that his female lead would meet his criteria perfectly. This was achieved with Marine Vacth, who, very early on in the Official Competition, electrified the 66th Cannes Film Festival. How does one deal with prostitution without being heavy-handed about it? By talking about something all together different, by telling the story of the transition into adulthood, the loss of innocence, a worn-out subject to which prostitution brings a new insight. Through the tone with which we are familiar, Ozon delivers an updated version of La Boum (Claude Pinoteau, 1980) with an account structured in four seasons. During the summer, Isabelle sleeps with her first boyfriend on the eve of her 17th birthday, on a holiday beach. Instantaneously, she realizes how easily she can dissociate herself from the sexual act. Instead, the details around her attract her attention, but “it happened”, even if she was elsewhere. In autumn, Isabelle – a well-off student certainly in no financial need – prostitutes herself, hiding behind a pseudonym. She meets older men on the Internet, and sleeps with them in hotels of various standards. She experiments. She lies to everyone except herself. She accumulates money that she does not spend, and does not need. In winter, her double life is revealed and judged by her family. Isabelle is exposed and adapts her character to get through this season with the mastery and control of which she proved capable up until then. This is why the film is so provocative. Isabelle is sane. The why behind her escapades is never fully explained, maybe because it only exists in details that belong to her fantasies, because it only emerges from the how. Isabelle remains dissociated, a spectator to her own experiences, just as she was during her first sexual encounter. 

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In addition to the four symbolic seasons, each segment is punctuated by a song by Françoise Hardy, generally overly significant in its words (“I am no longer the one I was, you made me something completely different...”), nearly there just for the style and rekindled hype which accompanied the icon of the sixties in trendy and artsy French milieus. Ozon goes as far as to use On est pas sérieux quand on a 17 ans by Arthur Rimbaud in a documentary montage which is somewhat justified by a scholarly analysis of the poem, interpreted in a personal manner by each teenager. It might be too didactic for the hardcore author cinema audience, but it remains coherent with François Ozon’s filmography. Because the director/screenwriter is often conceptual and Young and Beautiful makes a huge effort to square the circle. The film could have ended before the spring, on an excessively metaphorical scene that associates adolescent feelings with the image of a locked padlock at the end of a party that takes place in our time. Ozon prefers to offer a springtime epilogue which once and for all wipes the slate clean on what could have been a deep, inter-generational and sociologically destructive drama, but which almost sees itself as a pleasant “phase” in the development of a normal adolescent, falsely unwholesome (despite what her mother thinks: “She has evil in her”) and inevitably moving. 

Wild Bunch is hardly at any risk with Young and Beautiful, which contains quite a few risqué scenes but which will efficiently reach several generations, either movie fans or not. Its skilful blend of dark humour, eroticism and the human dimension definitely ensure that the movie reflects the spirit of our times.

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(Translated from French)

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