For those of you who thought Nymphomaniac was not sexually liberal enough. Leave it to the French to make a story of an underage prostitute tasteful and endearing.
Meet Isabelle, a precocious, spoiled, detached, rebellious and beautiful french teenager blossoming on verge of adulthood. While vacationing with her family on a sumer get-away she loses her virginity to a German tourist leaving her unsatisfied, celebrates her 17th birthday and then returns home to immediately become a small-time prostitute. If you’re as confused as to that line of progression then you would not be alone in that regard. Some questions this brings up could be what drove her to making such a decision? What does she hope to accomplish through all this? Does she understand the implications and legal ramifications? How long can she get away with it?
Director/writer François Ozon doesn’t make things easy for us understand the complicated, troubled and enigmatic Isabelle. With a storyline like that and it being made in french the comparisons to other titles like Belle De Jour and Vivre Sa Vie are inevitable, and Ozon’s piece holds up very well along with the likes of Buñuel and Godard. The sexual awakening of women has served as a theme for many a filmmaker over the years and the exploration of female sexuality is again the centerpiece of a 2014 movie as with the uneven Nymphomaniac, this time with far better and welcomed results.
23-year old former model Marine Vacth plays Isabelle with all the right amounts of nuance, frustration and coldness to render a compelling teenage character. Seeing the world around her through her eyes, no matter how skewed they may be is the driving narrative technique. Rest easy that this is not a heavy-handed morality play in the slightest; we are witnessing some poor choices in the girl’s life certainly but we are also compelled to just observe exactly how she arrived at this junction of her life. Again as with Pt. 1 of Nymphomaniac the crux is that the filmmakers are not judging Isabelle, they allow for the audience to come to their own conclusions and understandings.
Looking at the world candidly through a teenager’s eyes is no easy feat, as we tend to lose that ability after growing up a little. We try to forget those extremely awkward, frustrating impressionable years where we had no idea where to steer our youthful energy and ambition. We were feed up with our parents authority and rules; we wanted to be control our own lives make life on our terms all right now! Some of us did regrettable things in order to do so and we never wanted to admit that we were not ready for reality and all it entailed.
The film presents a textbook case of an angst filled teen trying to come to grips conforming with the endlessly complicated adult world. This world filled with sexual politics, innuendos and shaming is hard enough to navigate as an adult, and Isabelle wants to meet this world head-on on her terms using the newest skill she believes to have mastered. Asserting independence when one has no real life experiences to rely on has always and will continue to be an ordeal. Isabelle is right now simply as the title states Young and Beautiful, but she wants more than just to be a mannequin propped up on a pedestal, she wants control and she wants it be any means at her disposal.
Young and Beautiful is as fine a character study released this year, but will probably be remembered more so for the highly controversial subject material than the unique coming-of-age story that it portrays. Vacth toes the fine line between angst and alienating, that proves she has a career ahead of her, many others (including an Ozon veteran making a spirited cameo) give just as great supporting performances as her family and friends who are just as bewildered at Isabelle’s behavior as we the audience are.
Having its sexually liberated roots with the likes of Belle De Jour is as good as any other filmic influence. The piece, if nothing else, gives a welcomed non-judgmental tone to the all the proceedings, allowing us simply to watch and hopefully begin to understand the intricacies of people, young and old alike. So, the question I was left with in the end was what more could be asked of a film?