Young and Beautiful 2013 Movie Scene Marine Vacth as Isabelle nude in the bathroom while taking a shower

Young and Beautiful AKA Jeune et Jolie [2013]

Well, well, well, if it isn’t another controversial, ambiguous, and yet utterly compelling French movie? Putain! This one has been on my watchlist for the longest time and just last night I decided to finally check it out. For the next ninety minutes, I was totally consumed by its every aspect. I even had to pause it a couple of times to write my notes, something I rarely do. Young and Beautiful is a thought-provoking erotic drama about a 17-year-old girl who decides to become a prostitute for no apparent reason. First things first, the actress playing that girl, Isabelle, Marine Vacth, was 22 years old at the time of the filming. I just wanted to make that clear so that we can really dig into this fascinating movie.

The term prostitute I don’t think applies here as Isabelle is actually an escort. Or a sex worker to use the current vocabulary with which I totally agree. Since this is a 2013 movie, we can consider it a herald of change when it comes to these things. However, this is definitely not the first French movie to tackle this subject. Belle de Jour starring young Cathérine Deneuve graced the screens some forty years ago, back in 1967. And yes, in case you’re wondering, it’s the erotic part of this erotic drama that made me want to check it out. You know that I’m always looking for dramas with a twist wink wink. The movie opens with someone watching our young protagonist Isabelle while sunbathing topless through binoculars.

And I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about just what type of erotica or nudity we will be dealing with here. While at first Young and Beautiful looks like a voyeuristic soft-core porn movie, it almost instantly switches gears into something more subversive and intellectual. Don’t get me wrong, there will be plenty of sexually explicit scenes. It’s just that they’re handled in a subtle and more emotional way. This is something that’s quite difficult to put into words. I just wanted to tell you that this isn’t a movie in the vein of all those eighties erotic thrillers. So, don’t go into it expecting something cheap and sleazy is all that I’m trying to say here.

This is actually a coming-of-age story told from the perspective of a young and beautiful girl experimenting with her sexuality. Right after that sunbathing scene, we enter her busy household. The movie does a fantastic job of capturing how it feels to be young and excited about things. After we meet our protagonists we’re off to uncharted waters. I have so many different notes and theories about what this movie is about that I practically gave up on figuring it out definitively. Before I start talking about them I just want you to know that this movie has a fairly structured story. It even features some surprising twists.

It’s also highly atmospheric and captivating featuring excellent cinematography and performances. The star of the show is mesmerizing Marine Vacth showing us that she embodies everything Isabelle is. She’s not only stunningly and uniquely beautiful but also an excellent and very talented actress. Johan Leysen playing her older client George was also great along with young Fantin Ravat. And it’s safe to say that I’ll be checking out François Ozon’s (writer and director) filmography in the coming months. At first, I thought we were in for one of those meditations on “what it means to have everything”. To have a stable home, good parents, money, intelligence, looks, and still ask for more.

Something we’ve been conditioned to think is too much since we were little. We have to make certain decisions that will ensure our “prosperity”. But what does prosperity mean? Is it happiness, survival, or straightforward merry and procreate type of an affair? To spur us on in our quest for answers, the movie offers a thought-provoking segment featuring students analyzing Arthur Rimbaud’s poem We Are Not Serious When We Are 17 Years Old. I don’t know about you but I certainly wasn’t able to think like this when I was younger. So, we’re back to a classic story of a rebellious teen seeking freedom through things that society and her parents do not approve of.

The main question from this line of thought is why. Why would a young and beautiful girl do something like that? This simple question is borne out of an even simpler premise and yet it opens so many other questions. Questions related to our perception of not just women but also youth and beauty. And men, let’s not forget about them. For example, all the men Isabelle meets. This is a movie about them just it is about her. Also, why there are so few if any, male escorts? In the end, the answer becomes entirely irrelevant and quite personal. There are simply too many unknowns for us to come to a solid conclusion.

Then again, I could be reading too much into this and the entire movie could be just a director’s fantasy come to life. Ultimately, I settled on the notion that Jeune et Jolie is actually a fascinating character study. A fascinating character study that holds up a mirror to a part of our society we don’t often get to see. A part that’s usually chockfull of much more tangible narratives telling you how you should feel and what you should think. I’m talking about movies that explore not just sexuality but prostitution or sex work. I think I’ve bored you enough with this one, so I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions. And if you’re looking for similar movies do check out Sleeping Beauty.

Director: François Ozon

Writer: François Ozon

Cast: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, Frédéric Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling

Fun Facts: The songs you hear in between each of the four segments (changing seasons) are Françoise Hardy’s poems ‘L’amour d’un garçon’, ‘A quoi ça sert?’, ‘Première rencontre’, and ‘Je suis moi’.


IMDb Link:

YouTube player