Despite their serious artistic intentions Francois Ozon’s films, which often depict the sexual awakening of young women, can’t help but titillate the rain coat brigade. That will probably be the case with his latest film Young and Beautiful but it doesn’t diminish the fact that this is a sensitively acted, attractively shot exploration of the impact on a family of a teenage girl’s sexual experimentation.
In a storyline that echoes TV’s Puberty Blues and Diary of a Call Girl and current Australian film 52 Tuesdays, Young and Beautiful sees 17-year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) making a confused and unsettling foray into the world of prostitution after a disappointing first sexual encounter. Calling herself Lea and offering her services via the internet to wealthy older men, she begins a bizarre double life that she carefully conceals from her mother (Géraldine Pailhas) and stepfather (Frédéric Pierrot). When an older client dies during a session she faces the threat of her secret world being exposed.
While the film does at times feel voyeuristic with lingering shots of Lea topless, this is for the most part an intelligent look at a young person’s awkward and destructive attempt to find their place in the world.
While the subject of his film may be salacious, Ozon directs in a refreshingly restrained and unsensational manner. Events unfold in a natural and believable way even though Isabelle’s motives are never entirely clear.
The entire cast are excellent with Vacth delivering a subtle nuanced performance that mixes vulnerability, precociousness with an unsettling indifference. Géraldine Pailhas is also terrific as a mother trying to cope with the emotional fallout of a situation she can barely fathom while concealing secrets herself. Frédéric Pierrot provides superb comic relief as the bumbling stepfather who constantly puts his foot in it. Late in the film Charlotte Rampling demonstrates why she is such a revered actor with an intense and mesmerising cameo as the wife of one of Isabelle’s clients.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Director(s): François Ozon.
Release date: 1st May 2014
Running time: 95 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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