The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Jeune & Jolie | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Jeune & Jolie

A teen enters the world of prostitution following the loss of her virginity.

Directed by: Francois Ozon
Starring: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling

While summering in the South of France with her family, 17 year old Isabelle (Vacth) loses her virginity to a holidaying German boy. Finding the experience much more mundane than she had led herself to believe it would be, Isabelle decides to become a high class prostitute upon her return to Paris in the Autumn. Advertising on an escort's website, she begins to meet clients, most of whom are advanced in their years, in a variety of locations ranging from expensive hotels to underground car parks. When one client dies during sex, Isabelle flees but is soon tracked down by the police and her secret life is exposed to her parents.
Hollywood has come in for much criticism over the past year for its adoption of comic book storytelling techniques. Genres as disparate as horror (Carrie) and the western (The Lone Ranger) have looked to the superhero origin archetype in an attempt to cash in on the current craze for DC and Marvel adaptations. It's no surprise that Hollywood should look for the most unoriginal way to cash in on the cultural zeitgeist but this trend has recently cropped up in the once fiercely independent world of French film. The controversial Palme d'or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour is no less than an adaptation of a comic book, or a "bandes dessinées" as the French would have it. Now Francois Ozon, the most iconic of the current crop of Gallic auteurs, looks to the world of comic books for Jeune & Jolie, a prostitution tale essayed in the manner of a superhero origin story.
In its narrative structure, Ozon's film is practically a remake of Sam Raimi's Spiderman. The loss of Isabelle's virginity, shot to resemble an out of body experience, is her "bitten by a radioactive spider" moment. Here she discovers her new power, the power to entice men. Like any superhero, Isabelle needs a costume and so adopts the classic "city secretary just finished a day at the office" look so popular with the more discerning working girls. Super powers, of course, need to be refined and so Isabelle has a few bad experiences before grasping the er... ins and outs of being a wonder-hooker. After finding herself ripped off by a nasty Arab type, she decides to stick to nice middle class, opera loving, elderly French gents. This leads to her "death of Uncle Ben" moment, when her favorite client suffers a fatal coronary during sex. Ozon even includes a Mary Jane in the form of a boy from high school who Isabelle sleeps with once. The poor schmuck is deeply hurt when she informs him of her inability to take their fumblings any further. Relationships between superheroes and mortals rarely work out, you see.
Jeune & Jolie is every bit as ridiculous as its premise would have you believe. None of its characters behave in a remotely believable manner and if prostitution was as pleasant as it seems here, we'd all be on the game. The lyrics of the Francoise Hardy chansons and the text of Rimbaud's "Romance", employed here like a lawyer citing a legal precedent, are so on-the-nose they'll have you cringing in your seat. Having said all that, however, the undeniable skill and artistry of Ozon (a visual reference to Murnau's Nosferatu is one of the most striking shots of the year) elevates it above similar Gallic softcore dross like Elles or Nathalie and Vacth gives a compelling dead-eyed performance, much like Emily Browning in last year's superior Sleeping Beauty, or Isabelle Adjani in any film she's ever appeared in.
Ozon churns movies out a rate matched only by Woody Allen; it's but six months since he gave us the excellent In the House. There's a thin line between proliferation and profligacy though, and Ozon would do well to take more of a breather between projects if he's to avoid making films this vacuous.

Eric Hillis