May 12, 2014

Young & Beautiful

The versatile François Ozon is back with the slightly befuddling bourgeois story of Isabelle, a young, beautiful girl (Marine Vacth), who for no discernible reason decides to become a high class hooker. She is 17, lives with her very nice mom, step-dad and brother in a swanky Paris neighborhood, summers in the south of France and voilá, after losing her virginity without any fireworks to a young German man, decides to try prostitution. My guess is that this is as much out of ennui with her privileged life as out of some sort of notion of independence. She doesn't do it because she is horny, she does it because she doesn't get it; she is clinically curious about sex. After Catharine Deneuve in Belle Du Jour, she may also be the coldest fish in that profession. She earns good money (300 euros a pop) which she lovingly fondles as she hides her stash in the closet, under her lingerie. Isabelle is very fortunate in more than one respect: She is stunningly beautiful, she happens to live in the land of fabulous lingerie, and most of her johns are not physically revolting.
I always have a problem with movies that portray prostitutes and their johns as the meeting of supermodels (Pretty Woman, anyone?). I have little patience with the whore fantasies of men. The few whores I've ever seen in real life look, at best, like battered meat trucks, but that's because I'm a remote and innocent bystander, not a high roller with 300 euros to shake at a roll in the hay.
Anyway, the movie is very entertaining, beautifully shot, directed and acted. Isabelle falls for a very handsome older gentleman who treats her nicely, and she has only a couple of relatively lucky brushes with some nasty men. It's nothing physically violent, but in one scene with a john both brutish and cheap, Ozon shows that there's no need to arrive at hard physical violence in order to be violently resentful, demeaning, and full of hatred for women.
Soon, Isabelle's mom and step-dad find out, and that is where things get fun. The mom (the wonderful Geraldine Pailhas), a well-intentioned, liberal woman, is so distraught and at a loss about what could she have done wrong that at one point she suggests, in total seriousness, a girls' only shopping trip to London, to straighten her baby out.
The socio-economics of the film are very engaging. Isabelle lacks for nothing, but nothing is really her own. Since she is legally still a minor, she loses her hard earned money to her parents. Of course her mom suggests donating it to a charity for disadvantaged or abused women. This enrages Isabelle. She has to go back to babysitting, which nets her a paltry 10 euros an hour. I see her point. So would Karl Marx. After all that hard work...
Towards the end, however, the film turns into a philosophical (and to me far less diverting) meditation about love and death, youth and decay, innocence and experience, you know the drill. Still, it's well worth sticking around because Charlotte Rampling shows up, and when that happens, we must stand at attention.
As you can surmise, this is one of the most French movies ever made. Ozon is a puckish observer of the current Parisian bourgeois life, with its safe liberal pieties, Arab servants, multi-cultural affairs on the side, expensive shrinks, and teenagers who love to epater les parents by doing the damnedest things. You can have a blast just thinking about what your own mom would do to you if she ever found out that you were turning fancy tricks at 17. I have a feeling that an all expenses paid trip to Harrod's is not the answer.
Even more fun is trying to imagine the American remake.

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