Four songs and four seasons provide the pace in “Young and beautiful,” (original title: “Jeune et Jolie”) the engrossing film by France’s filmmaker Francois Ozon (“The swimming pool”) in competition this year. They provide a neat way to organize the film but also reinforce our oh-so-wrong expectations as we settle into the quaint family vignettes which he tenders in the first part of his film: a semi-normal family (they smoke pot when the kids are not around but they are staunchly middle class) on a beachside vacation, adolescents gamboling in the sand. We (at least, I) love these cliches, they might make some of us nostalgic and will be destabilizing to others as things unravel later. Ozon makes us comfortable and then demolishes everything with such tact.
Isabelle, played by newcomer Marine Vacth (yes she’s young, and yes she’s devastatingly beautiful), vacations with her family in the south of France. Girl meets boy (Max) and a tryst between them which barely has time for a gasp of air is sacked after Isabelle withdraws into herself, leaving the boy befuddled. The family returns to Paris and life continues on. In the next scene Isabelle walks into a hotel room and talks with a man sitting on a bed who’s at least fifty years older than her and who unpleasantly comments that she doesn’t look like in the pictures (the ones posted online). Isabelle is a high-class prostitute who plies her trade in luxury hotels, leading a double-life with aplomb until one of her johns has a heart attack while they’re having sex and her world collapses.
Ozon’s film is intelligent, artful and engrossing. It’s everything you want in a film being shown at Cannes, where the expectations are often high.
Vacth reminds one of a cross between Laetitia Casta, Maiwenn and Arianna Nastro of Saverio Costanzo’s “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” (2010). Bearing the humanoid-like physique of a model –which she is—Vacth isn’t one to go to the end of each of her emotions (for lack of experience, likely, or an unwillingness. She’s commented that she doesn’t feel like she’s an actress) but she was perfectly cast for the role.
This is the first film which Ozon wrote and directed. It’s his second film in competition, ten years after presenting “Swimming Pool” on the Croisette.