By Don Simpson | May 5, 2014
Director: François Ozon
Writer: François Ozon
Starring: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard, Djedje Apali, Lucas Prisor, Laurent Delbecque, Jeanne Ruff
Seventeen-year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is deflowered during her family’s Summer holiday in the south of France, and by the time Autumn rolls around she has taken up a career as a prostitute. With an online profile that lists her age as 20, the underage call girl quickly builds a client base of wealthy old men. Unafraid to meet these strange men in hotel rooms, Isabelle does not seem to comprehend the inherent risks of her career. All the while, Isabelle’s mother (Géraldine Pailhas) and step-father (Frédéric Pierrot) are utterly clueless about her secret life.
Writer-director François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful intimately observes Isabelle during the four seasons of the seventeenth year of her life, separating each season into a distinct chapter featuring a song by Françoise Hardy — “The Love Of A Boy,” “When Even Try?,” “First Encounter,” and “I Am Me.” Ozon focuses the eerily nonchalant attitude of a modern teenager, echoing the sentiments of Rimbaud’s poem “No-One’s Serious at Seventeen” as Isabelle does not take any of her decisions or actions seriously. Showcasing the modern day breakdown of relationships, Isabelle seems totally disconnected from the world around her, mindlessly drifting from home to school to random hotel rooms and back home again. It is as if Isabelle is stuck in a sort of teenage limbo, anxious to escape into adulthood.
A story that would have certainly benefited from the perspective of a female director, Ozon’s film plays like an evocatively voyeuristic male fantasy of a girl’s sexual awakening. Other than suggesting that Isabelle might be motivated by raging hormones, Ozon refuses to address why Isabelle chooses to become a call girl. Indifferent to her career, her clients and her income, it seems as though Isabelle has become a prostitute just for the hell of it. Sex is a meaningless transaction for Isabelle, just as money seems to hold no real significance. Ozon has no interest in condemning Isabelle’s risky and naive behavior; nor does he seek to comment upon just how simple it is for her to become an underage prostitute. Like the teenager Ozon so acutely observes, Young & Beautiful never contemplates its own actions, nor does it seem to care about anything at all.