June nights! Seventeen! Drink it in.
Sap is champagne, it goes to your head…
The mind wanders, you feel a kiss
On your lips, quivering like a living thing.
In a Paris schoolroom, teenagers recite snippets from Rimbaud’s poem “No One’s Serious at Seventeen.” One of these students, Isabelle Bontale (Marine Vacth), fills her evenings with more than homework and dreams of the boy in the back row. After a summer by the sea, during which she allowed a German boy to take her virginity, Isabelle has turned her blooming sexuality into a business enterprise: freelance prostitution. Earning 300 to 500 Euros for each hotel assignation, she goes by the name Léa and gives her age as 20. She’s 17.
In outline,Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie) appears sensational: I Was a Teenage Call Girl. Yet François Ozon’s film is tender, judicious, fascinated, sexually charged but not prurient. It pins no blame on society, school, the girl’s clients or her parents. Isabelle treats her concerned mother (Geraldine Pailhas) and amiable stepfather (Frédéric Pierrot) the way any teen might: as the security guards of an enemy state who deserve little communication and no straight answers. In fact, they are the innocents, she the daredevil spy with a dirty secret. She is close to her sweet younger brother Victor (Fantin Ravat), who watches her sunbathe nude or masturbate in her bedroom while he remains ignorant of her profitable secret. So is everyone else; Isabelle has a facility for compartmentalizing her double life. That first night, as she lies on the beach, the German boy pounding his manhood into her, another Isabelle stands nearby watching, appraising, detached.
Why does she choose this line of work? That is for the spectator to speculate. “This young woman is a mystery to me, too,” Ozon says. “I’m not ahead of her, I’m simply following her, like an entomologist gradually falling in love with the creature he’s studying.” But a key can be found in Ozon’s last film, In the House, in which a 16-year-old schoolboy devised an elaborate, largely fictional world both to amuse himself and to test his teacher. Isabelle, we may infer, wants to create a life more eventful, dramatic and potentially perilous than those of her classmates.
Young & Beautiful by François Ozon (view the trailer)