In this coming of age tale, French director Francois Ozon examines the unconventional route that a 17-year-old school girl travels to explore her sexuality.
Set over the course of four seasons, Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie) begins at summer’s end when Isabelle (Marine Vacth), vacationing with her family on the Riviera, loses her virginity on a beach date with a German tourist, an experience that has left her unimpressed. With the experience behind her, she returns home to start the school year –and a secret double life.
One day she’s propositioned on the street by an older man, an encounter that leaves her so intrigued that it leads her into a parallel existence as a prostitute. She advertises on a web site, buys a second mobile phone, and soon the €100 bills begin to pile up in a wallet hidden in her wardrobe.
Her call girl dates continue until a client she’s emotionally become drawn to unexpectedly dies, which leads her to end her double life –and to being found out.
Even with a premise that some would (and will) find disturbing, the film largely succeeds because Ozon doesn’t litter the screenplay with morality or judgment when the search begins for explanations as to why a young girl with everything would choose the path she did. There are no easy answers and no explanations are given. For her part, Vacth is convincing as a confused but confident young woman, who figures out, on her own, how to confront the choices she’s made.
A nice touch? An unscripted scene where real 17-year-olds discuss Rimbaud’s poem “No One’s Serious at Seventeen”.