Jeune et Jolie is a frank coming-of-age tale told through the experiences of one 17 year-old girl and her family. And that’s what this film is all about: experiences. Not romanticised nostalgia of what teenage experiences were when we were younger but real immediate adolescent angst. When you’re 17 years old, everything is an experience. Everything is new and exciting or new and depressing but everything is an experience. These experiences flow through Marine Vacth’s tumultuous teen, Isabelle, and are channeled elegantly by François Ozon’s deliberate and intricate direction.
Vacth has a rare and hypnotic quality, meandering between adolescent girl and strikingly complex adult woman, she magnetises the camera and consequently us. To carry the film in the way she does shows a strength and trust in both her acting and the relationship with her director. Ozon was obviously looking for something special when casting this film and in Vacth he assuredly found it.
From normal sexual stirrings, Isabelle, once she’s gotten the unpleasant ‘first time’ out of the way, turns sex to her advantage, making money as she explores herself and the world of adult pleasure. What’s interesting is there’s no reason or explanation for her character turning to prostitution, other than she seems to actively enjoy her choice to do so. We see no poverty or entrapment, not even a goal for the considerable sums of money she is making and saving. It’s this choice that makes Isabelle’s rebellion so unusual, so unnecessary and so intensely personal.
Marine Vacth embodies the tornado of teenage emotion so genuinely that you forget about the thematic controversy and just feel what she’s going through. She’s at turns angry, isolated, reaching out for a connection, chasing new discoveries, exploring herself, burgeoning with sexuality and always diffused with melancholic beauty. The score, the tonal resonance and indeed Isabelle herself are all steeped in this melancholic aesthetic of Ozon and Vacth’s creation (the word ‘melancholy’ itself being mentioned several times in the film). And it’s this focus on that particular feeling, the true feeling of being a teenager, which brings the film its success.
If you’re willing to go with it for an hour and a half then you’ll find yourself immersed in a refreshingly honest and insightful story of one 17 year-old girl’s confusion, rebellion and sexual awakening.