Jeune et Jolie (London Film Festival 2013)
Turning 17 can be difficult, partly as it’s the bridge between a life without worries and having to consider career paths. Isabelle (Marine Vacth), a sexually curious 17-year-old mixes a few of her adolescent needs in Jeune et Jolie: within a few months of losing her virginity, she discretely becomes a prostitute.
Isabelle’s lucrative profession only runs in the late afternoon, so she can escape detection from her mother, stepfather and brother. In that plot aspect, it shares a similarity with Belle du Jour, but François Ozon applies more realism; after a while, hotel room sessions and frequent showers just become part of a routine.
From an early stage, Isabelle’s sexual appetite is demonstrated as a healthy part of growing up (even if it crudely involves a pillow). Through a time jump, Ozon skips her first client and early nerves. She’s still clearly a teenager – when she pretends to be 20, the older men she sleeps with are turned on knowing it’s a lie.
Her innocent bedroom mannerisms are endearing to some customers; even without a pimp, she avoids any violence. In fact, her self-run business would impress Mark Zuckerberg, given the admin is managed through an outdated mobile phone without internet access.
When Isabelle’s mother (Géraldine Pailhas) inevitably finds out, her heartbreak is both understandable and unfair; there’s no other reaction, but Ozon somehow turns prostitution into a simple exploration of sexuality that can pay for her education, purchase a subscription to Sight & Sound, or whatever it is 17-year-olds do with pocket money.
Although prostitution is dangerous, especially with Isabelle’s vulnerable timidity, the only victim (on a physical level) is one of her clients, who dies from, well, enjoying himself too much. In that sense, there’s a lurid fairytale aspect not too dissimilar from the independence of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead – okay, that might be a stretch. Either way, Vacth is able to convey nuanced emotions through a sigh and wry smile.
Isabelle’s hotel antics are part of her coming-of-age story, which is arguably no different from having sex with strangers after a party, except it comes with a criminal label. After all, Ozon’s more interested in the self-fulfilling prophecy of adolescence; when a psychiatrist hints at absent father issues, Isabelle just laughs off the question.
Jeune et Jolie is part of the London Film Festival’s “Dare” strand. Screening information can be found here.
94 mins approx