It’s strange how a single short scene in a movie can raise that film from being quite good to exceptional. This is exactly what happened in Francois Ozon latest French language offering Jeune & jolie (2013), which was being shown at the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre’s Film Club evening, informatively hosted by Brendan Kearney. I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the film by going into detail but just to say the scene involves the ever-attractive Ozon regular Charlotte Rampling.
Brendan introduced the film by telling us that its takes place over the course of a year divided into four seasons from summer to spring each separated by a song by French cultural icon Francoise Hardy the words of which have significance to the narrative. He went on to explain that it’s a story about the loss of innocents, youthful rebellion and coming of age involving a well educated 17 year old girl from a middle class bourgeois family which includes her mother Sylvie (the wonderful Geraldine Paihas), her stepfather Patrick (Frederic Pierrot) and her younger brother Victor (Fantin Ravat).
We first observe Isabelle (played superbly by the face of Yves Saint Laurent perfume the 22 year old Marine Vacth) while on holiday with her family in the South of France its here she looses her virginity to a young German lad. After the holiday we discover that home is a large and comfortable flat in Paris and that she attends a rather elite school where we witness the Rimbaud poem ‘We’re not serious when we are 17’ being discussed. So it comes as a bit of a shock that by the autumn she is selling her body under the working name of Lea to rich middle aged and older men in luxurious hotel rooms for 300 euro’s a time. Other than her younger brother the only person she has anywhere near a relationship with is one of her clients Georges whom she sees quite often. But it’s when Georges dies suddenly from heart attack in the middle of a sex session that Isabelle’s life takes a dramatic turn.
Ozon’s character study never really explains why Isabelle turns to prostitution, It’s obviously not for the money, which she hides in a wardrobe, and it does not appear that she does it for the sexual thrill, which leaves her motivations obscure. What is clear to this viewer is that she leads a voluntary double life that seems to give her no pleasure and leaves her a rather sad and lonely human being who is unable to connect feelings, emotions, love and sex. It brings to mind other French film’s that deals with the subject of prostitution Elles (2011) and Luis Bunuel’s Belle de jour (1967) that also deals with a woman’s involved in voluntary prostitution. As I said at the beginning it’s the final scene that raises this film to a different level, a film that divided critics but was very well received at the RBCFT.