Thursday, 11 September 2014

Film Review: Young and Beautiful

Young and Beautiful is a French movie (titiled Jeune et Jolie) that sees 17-year-old Isabelle undergo a sexual awakening following the loss of her virginity on a summer holiday. 

Jeune and Jolie was sort of overshadowed at Cannes last year by the equally risqué, Blue is the Warmest Colour - it really shouldn't have been though, as Francois Ozon's own baby Belle du Jour tale is a delicate and touching film full of positives.

After the opening summer prologue where Isabelle (Marine Vacth) loses her virginity, the story jumps forward to Isabelle later that autumn, already a call girl in Paris. Rather the show her make this risqué life choice, we are confronted fairly early on with an already disillusioned and oddly confident young girl coping with this split personality alone.

The film isn't about why she does what she does, but what happens when she does - the clients she meets, the bastards she has to cross paths with and how she hides all this from her friends and family. However, it is when she forges a connection with an elderly client, Georges (Johan Leysen), that proves the films most interesting character dynamic.

In the lead role, Marine Vacth is fantastic. She's vulnerable, yet sure of herself, fragile and damaged but still driven. In some ways, she exceeds the boundaries of her sort of limited character arc.Whilst the conclusion to Isabelle's story is handled wonderfully, I found that her motivations were kind of lacking in the beginning. Curiosity? Experimentation? The money? Like I said though, I don't think that is really the point of the film - I tried to move past it, and enjoyed the film a lot more for it. Vacth's quiet and somewhat understated performance helped anchor the story.

I also thought that Isabelle's mother, Géraldine Pailhas, put in a fantastic performance. Together with step-father Patrick (Frederic Pierrot), they formed a relatable and emotional backbone to the story, a counterpoint to the confused and somewhat angst-ridden Isabelle.

Where Young and Beautiful strikes home is through the sound design and cinematography. I particularly liked how the music sometimes came and went suddenly to cue a change from reality to 'fantasy'.

However, there are some lazy narrative decisions that signpost the movie - a lot of films do this, leave a trail of clues on how the story will pan out. This one felt a little forced though - essentially, there is scene where Isabelle's class are deconstructing a book, analysing the themes and storyline. In some ways, it meant that it was a little too explicit what the key morals were - but at least the film didn't breadcrumb its own plot down the final scene, otherwise I would've been bored, knowing where it was going from the first 20 minutes.

Instead, the conclusion is touching and not explicitly foretold. In terms of pacing, the film is a tight 93-minutes with only a few slow stages - mainly in the middle third. I liked that opening cut to the chase and that the final act changed pace and scenery.

On the whole, I liked Young and Beautiful and thought it was a very well made film. The actors were great, especially Vacth in the lead role. I liked that it was a film that dealt with coming-of-age and exploring your own identity in a way that was staged in cold, impersonal hotel rooms rather than your typical frenetic house parties or daunting school yards. In the end, I watched it, I liked the film but felt it wasn't massively striking or powerful to stay with me for long.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

It's not the classic it could've been, but Young and Beautiful has a raft of positives, none greater than Marine Vacth's breakout role. However, it's simply not risky or edgy enough to elevate itself into must-see territory.

Note: I don't usually write full reviews of movies that aren't in theatres - but think I might do more. What do you think? More full-length DVD reviews or just new releases? Let me know below!

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