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This is a review of Jeune et Jolie (2013), as shown at Bath Film Festival 2013 (@BathFilm)
S = script
A = acting
C = cinematography
M = music
P = pacing
F = feel
9 = mid-point of scale (all scored out of 17, 17 x 6 = 102)
Jeune et Jolie (2013) soon reviewed on the blog - a delight seeing Charlotte Rampling, and strong work from Marine Vacth / Géraldine Pailhas
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) December 2, 2013
After the location of the opening section, François Ozon’s film is set in Paris, but more by implication than by depiction (except for showing a fascinating bridge where it seems to be the fashion to leave a padlock on the side mesh) in a film that haunts interiors. For a film that seems to centre on the sexual act, it is impressively unsexy, unlike its distinctively arousing contemporary from Abdellatif Keciche, Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), and it really hinges on the seasons, starting with the summer, when Isabelle (Marine Vacth) turns 17.
In her head at least (though this is true of the pupils in both Keciche’s film and – another vehicle for Adèle Exarchopoulos – Pieces of Me (2012)), this is high time to lose one’s virginity, which is shown typical gritting-one’s-teeth style as if it is just something that has to be done**. Impossibly, since her German lover (no virgin) is with her and escorts her home, she looks at where it happened as if outside herself, so we know from this, and her lack of desire to see him, that the act has significance beyond our measure.
Keen though she is not to announce what she has done to her friend Claire, she does capitalize on it, and the attention that men give her. Comparisons have been made with classic Buñuel in Belle de Jour (1967), but Isabelle’s motivations – to the extent that we ever understand them – are nothing to do with sadomasochistic fantasy, nor (as in the rather dire Sleeping Beauty (2011), and despite what Isabelle pretends) with lack of funds as a student. If one is reminded of any recent film parallel, not least by how J&J ends, it is the excellent Natalie (2003), for doing something just because one can…
The film neatly sets up expectations that Isabelle’s brother Victor, who spies on her going topless on the beach and with whom she makes – and breaks – an agreement to tell him all about her lovers’ tryst, is going to remain important : what is, though, important is what her first sexual experience with another meant, for that moment of standing outside herself was almost reminiscent of the coping strategy of Samira as a victim of gang-rape in As if I am not There (2010).
This, I believe, rightly remains unclear. It has some bearing on what Isabelle did, but we are too little privy to her therapy sessions to know whether the psychological truth behind it all becomes clear to her. As a pithy description on IMDb says, this is a film in four seasons and four songs, the first of which we hear when she is reflecting on what happened on the beach. As befits songs (and it remains to be established whose words are set), they can exist outside the realm of the person with whom they are visually associated, just as a singer can tell a tale of jealousy without being a jealous person :
Without a teacher’s voice intervening, what is effective is a moment when different members of the class, Isabelle included, recite parts of a poem by Rimbaud, and then are shown, in their seats, interpreting it. Not only is one reminded of the school setting, and relatively impenetrable protagonist, of the previous film (In the House (2012)), but also of the provisionality of what we see and hear, whether in poetry, or in film.
The taboos that are broken share ground (though not content) with films of Haneke’s such as Benny’s Video (1992), Funny Games (1997) or The White Ribbon (2009), with both writer / directors showing that they have insights into the world of adolescence and the excessive liberties that it can lead to. The alliance between brother and sister to keep secrets, and that uneasy interest in each other’s sexuality, is the germ of what happens, the sort of rebellion that Haneke keeps coming back to.
The seasons denote attempts to come to terms with sex and relationships from the first sexual act to thinking oneself invited to perform lesbian acts, and, in between, a searching for identity, warmth, a place to be oneself that ranges from flirting with one’s stepfather (Frédéric Pierrot***) to trying to love a peer. In all of this, the threatened connection between mother and daughter holds firm, but there is the unsettling feeling that what one did / who one is perceived to be will break through.
Ozon’s film is seamlessly constructed, thoughtful, intense, and the performances that he has from Vacth and from Géraldine Pailhas as her mother Sylvie are highly impressive, with solid support from Pierrot, a little more able sometimes as Patrick, even if his way of expressing himself is pounced on to his ill by Sylvie, to see the wood for the trees. Ultimately, Ozon leaves us to ponder, whether or not as parents, what he has brought to us here.
Though there is also a follow-up piece here
* The film gives as its English title Young and Beautiful, but any student of French will tell you that jolie does not mean 'beautiful' (which is belle). One of the posters for the rising star Peppy in The Artist (2011) is Young and Pretty, but Peppy does not suit a leading lady, and would fit the dog better.
** Rather implausibly, given what twentieth-century girls lives are like (plus she is described as a tomboy later on), she bleeds, as if her hymen had been intact.
*** A prolific film actor, best known to me from being a foil to KST in Sarah's Key (2010) - a film unfairly slighted by UK critics - and, in a different capacity, in I've Love You So Long (2008).
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)