We’re all grown up now. We’re in the “Common Market”. We even have the odd sidewalk cafe. But it’s hard to shake the stubborn notion that the French are that bit more sophisticated than us. Just look at the many films of François Ozon. People are forever doing these sexy things that would get you arrested in a Celtic or Anglo-Saxon nation.
The deeply strange Jeune et Jolie is a case in point. Once again showing a gift for animating the lives of young people, Ozon offers us a sleek, glamorous portrayal of life in the sexual fast lane. The images are gorgeous. The performances are laid back. Ozon even forces home those clichéd notions of Gallic sophistication by layering the film with songs by ultra-gamine Françoise Hardy.
Yet much of the picture feels – to these cloth-eared sensibilities anyway – profoundly and irredeemably dubious. Can prostitution really be seen as a class of liberation? So the film implies.
Marine Vacth plays Isabelle, a young girl from a decent family. The film begins with her losing her virginity to a German fellow while on holiday in the south of France. Later, back in Paris, she elects (for no good reason) to juggle life as a student with a career as a part-time prostitute.
Jeune et Jolie is not some treatise on undergraduate poverty. It's made clear that Isabelle doesn't really need the cash. She is allowing commerce to set her free. She is using the formality to gain a kind of power. Or something.
French cinema does, of course, have a distinguished history of genuinely nuanced experiments in this area. But Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour was always aware of the tensions in its sociopolitical postures. Jeune et Jolie seems, by way of contrast, wildly excited by the unsavoury transgressions.
A bizarre closing conversation with an older woman – who seems to envy Isabelle’s lifestyle – merely confirms the suspicion that Ozon thinks sex work is groovy and right-on. A deeply confusing film for the unsophisticated.