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Jeune et Jolie

D: François Ozon / 95m

Cast: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, Charlotte Rampling

During the summer holidays, newly-seventeen Isabelle (Vacth) loses her virginity, but the experience has an unexpected and altogether darker effect on her: she becomes a prostitute. She meets men in hotel rooms, in particular Georges (Leysen), an elderly man who treats her with kindness. Naturally, her family, mother Sylvie (Pailhas), stepfather Patrick (Pierrot), and younger brother Victor (Ravat), know nothing of her activities outside school. It’s only when one of her customers dies while they are having sex, that everything comes out.

Jeune et Jolie - scene

Jeune & jolie is a compelling movie, made more so by an amazing performance from Vacth, making only her fourth screen appearance. She perfectly captures that awkward period in a teenage girl’s life where the need to be an adult is so overwhelming it can lead to the worst decisions. Whether arguing with her mother, or trying to make a “normal” relationship work, Vacth is always convincing; there’s not a single off-note in her entire performance. She’s ably supported by the rest of the cast – including a quietly emotional performance by Rampling as Georges’ widow – and by a script that refuses to be predictable or pedantic in its approach; it’s a testament to the quality of the screenplay that Isabelle’s reasons for becoming a prostitute are never clearly given, and the audience never feels cheated as a result.

Ozon’s direction is as captivating and intelligent as always, and each character is clearly delineated and given room to grow. The movie takes place over a year and the seasonal changes resonate with the characters and their development – it’s no surprise that Isabelle’s family discover what she’s been doing in winter. Fascinating from start to finish, with a central performance that is incredibly assured, this beguiling movie bears more than one viewing to ensure none of its complexities are missed.

Rating: 8/10 – a riveting movie that makes a virtue of being evasive in its lead character’s motivations; a potent reminder of just how courageous and thought-provoking French cinema can be when it wants to.

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