Cannes has a thing for provocative film-making. In the past we’ve had sexual abuse, mental abuse and the most taboo of all subjects sharing a bill (sometimes to great effect, as with The Hunt, and sometimes not) and it seems this year is no different. With the supremely violent Heli already out of the way, attention quickly turned to Francois Ozon’s extremely provocative looking Jeune & Jolie (or Young & Beautiful if you can’t handle the French,) a previously tightly controlled film about the sexual awakening of a 17 year old girl.
Given Ozon’s past works, including the excellent Potiche, and last year’s career high In The House, it was never likely to be the all-out raunch-fest that some might have desired, but the subject matter all but guaranteed some audience stirrings.
Ahead of release there was very little information to go on, and the somewhat tantalising offer of a sexual awakening tale starring a frankly beautiful young actress might have cashed some chips in alone, as well as the vague hint of a 9 Songs vibe in the trajectory of the narrative, and a Nymphomaniac edge to the whispers of sexiness.
But what was the reality?
Well, it’s certainly a provocative film, and if there was any doubt that Ozon was inviting us in as not quite welcome voyeurs to this young girl’s story, it is quickly dispelled by the first shot, which shows Isabelle sunbathing topless through mid-distance binocular sights.
From there on we are lead on a fairly mirthless journey of sexual discovery, as the self-styled “melancholic” devours sexual partners (in exchange for money, mostly) without too many smiles between orgasms, and balances her secret life (as Lea the prostitute) with her normal family life. Inevitably the two collide, and Isabelle is forced to conform once more, but her inner beast won’t be so easily quietened, and the story is fairly entertaining through each of its four sections.
At its heart, Jeune & Jolie is a fairly obvious allegory for the identity crisis of youth, and how teenagers can use experiential behaviour to find who they are in early stage adult development. Of course it is extreme, but Isabelle is merely trying to find herself, as every other teenager is, and though her resolution isn’t exactly nailed down, that’s the over-riding feeling here (especially as she appears to get away with her behaviour completely Scott-free.)
Sadly, for all of its provocative sensuality (uncomfortably so in some cases,) Jeune & Jolie is a little too slight to really cut a really enduring legacy – star Marine Vatch will be heading to Hollywood very soon no doubt, but beyond that, the film will probably be most remembered for promising a story told through four songs, that seemed to only feature three.
Incidentally, the film wins this year’s Drive Award for having the most blatantly narrative songs shoe-horned in to reinforce a key message.
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