As far as French cinema goes, Jeune & Jolie doesn’t stray too far from the norm. Not a whole lot happens in this drama about a teenage girl exploring her sexuality. Directed by Franҫois Ozon (Swimming Pool), the tone is dark and moody, with short but intense bursts of dialogue throughout. The subject matter is not at all uplifting and it leaves the viewer questioning the events they have just witnessed. The main protagonist is 17 year old Isabelle (Marine Vacth), who after an uninspiring first sexual encounter on the beach during a family holiday, decides to pursue a career as a high class prostitute under the name Lea.
There is never an explanation for Isabelle’s behaviour which is what adds to the perplexing nature of this film. Her actions confuse all those around her, leaving her mother to question what she did wrong to make her daughter take such a drastic course, and her step father reeling, desperately trying to stop his wife from falling apart. As a teenager Isabelle seems to be dissatisfied and like many others her age, melancholic for no apparent reason. She is detached and distant to all apart from her younger brother, Victor (Fantin Ravat), who despite his young age incessantly bombards his sister with questions about her sex life. At times this borders on the inappropriate, but the performance from both actors is so naturalistic it presents itself as completely acceptable.
The story is split into four sections, each one set during a different season in the year. This breaks up the film nicely as we see the different stages of Isabelle’s coming of age. She seems ultimately un-phased by her actions and becomes almost numb to the degradation involved in her profession. As a young and impressionable girl it is without doubt that her stint as a prostitute will cause her some sort of damage, but this is not properly addressed in the film. Isabelle is portrayed in such a way that it’s hard for the viewer to sympathise with her. She comes across as spoilt, petulant, and someone who is simply bored of their relatively comfortable life. There is also no remorse for the stress she puts her mother through, even when she witnesses her at breaking point.
Despite the unsettling story line, Jeune & Jolie is well worth a watch. As a viewer it left me wanting to discuss the story with others so I could develop some sort of conclusion regarding Isabelle’s double life. There were so many questions that needed to be answered. Did she enjoy what she did? Did she do it for fun or was it simply for the money? This is what makes the film so engaging, you are left thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.