Prostitution is the oldest profession, and one of the most frequent movie topics. It’s been covered from all angles, and there’s not much new to say about it, but Francois Ozon gives it a go in Young & Beautiful, which concerns a 17-year-old Parisian girl who plies the trade.
At first glance, this film is similar to Belle Du Jour, in which Catherine Deneuve played a bored housewife who has a side job as a prostitute. But this film takes a slightly different approach, and tries to understand the young girl’s motivation.
As the film begins, it seems like a male fantasy. Isabelle (Marina Vacth) is a stunning teenage girl. Notably, the first image of her is suntanning topless on the beach while her younger brother watches her through binoculars. The family is on summer vacation. She appears to be fairly normal if a little sullen. A German boy sniffs around her and takes her virginity, and she reacts coldly.
We fast forward to autumn, and Isabelle is now a working girl. She is independent (no pimp), and shows that anyone with a little web design experience can start their own business. She makes good money, and while she runs into a few creeps, she continues to do it. That is, until one of her favorite johns dies of a heart attack while in the saddle.
The film then takes a marked turn. Isabelle is fingered by the police, and while she is not arrested, her secret is exposed to her family. Her mother (Geraldine Pailhaus) is mortified, and makes her see a shrink.
One of the problems in the early going is figuring out why she is doing this. She has no need of money, and she doesn’t seem to enjoy the sex. Then it becomes apparent, especially through Vacth’s interesting performance, is that Isabelle doesn’t even know why she’s doing it. The script eludes easy answers. Her father, who lives in Italy, doesn’t seem to be the reason (she, of course, sleeps with much older men). Her mother, at one point, says, “What did we do to make you like this?” a question asked by many parents, I suspect.
But Isabelle just has an emotional black spot. After quitting the business, she takes up with a regular boyfriend, but after sleeping with him she again gets the urge to see clients.
Ozon is playing both sides of the fence. Despite his sociological viewpoint of the girl and the industry, there is the appeal to dirty old men. When Isabelle first enters the hotel room of her first client, an old man, the look on his face to see such loveliness is probably reflected in the faces of every pervy guy in the viewing audience (including me).
Still, it’s a good film, and Vacth, a model turned actress, gives a very assured performance.
My grade for Young & Beautiful: B+.