Francois Ozon’s Young and Beautiful, running for the Palm d’Or, is one of the most impressive movies I have seen till now at the Festival.
The awfully wet spell at Cannes last week hardly ruined the celebrations at the ongoing Film Festival, whose 66th edition began on May 15. If stars continue to walk the famed Red Carpet in their glitzy designer dresses, captured in all their alluring poses by the tens of photographers who never say die, there is a whole lot of excitement happening away from the steps of the Grand Theatre Lumiere.
At a star hotel, a couple of kilometres from the main Festival venues, thieves escaped with Chopard jewels worth more $1million on Friday. The burglary was a neat, well executed affair with the robbers getting to the safe from an adjoining room through a connecting door. Cinema indeed. and seemed like one of those classic heist plots we have seen on the screen.
The jewels were to have been loaned to the some of biggest stars, set to walk the Red Carpet. Now, if you find some of the necks barren or ears less ornamental during the evening star parades, remember someone else must be all decked up somewhere else.
Not just this. Also on Friday, a live television broadcast — showing two jury members, Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained) and Daniel Auteuil, being interviewed — was interrupted when gun shots were heard, and a man was seen running away with a weapon. Waltz and Auteuil were quickly whisked off the stage. Photographs showed a man being pushed to the ground by the police. Nobody was hurt.
And now for cinema, of the real kind.
Marine Vacath, playing 17-year-old Isabelle, goes through four seasons and four songs to assert her independence and experiment with life, experiments that could have landed her in an uglier mess. On the eve of her birthday, she gifts her virginity to a handsome German tourist while she is on a holiday in a seaside resort with her family. The girl is not sure whether this calls for a celebration, something she is happy to have got rid of.
Back home, Isabelle is restless to a point when she turns into a little daredevil and assumes a double life, balancing her university with sexual romps with older men, who are willing to pay.
Ozon, who has always been enamoured of adolescent behaviour (we see that in Swimming Pool), gives us a neat little movie which is not just tender but touching and aesthetically plotted and scripted.
School/college girl prostitution is not a new subject, and there was a time in the early 2000 when Japanese cinema harped on this, a social malaise there then with “absent” fathers pushing young daughters towards older men.
But in Young and Beautiful, although Isabelle has a stepfather, he is kind, understanding and is also a good parent. Here is this case, what Ozon tries to tell us through a beautifully written story is the girl’s misplaced concept of freedom and assertiveness. For Isabelle, sleeping with several partners is not only a money spinner, but also a morale booster, the sexual attention of men giving her a new high. The sex scenes are bold but finely executed which only someone like Ozon can do with a flourish.
The narrative begins in spring when Isabelle loses her virginity, and by autumn, she has assumed a new name and is leading a double life. In winter, when her family finds out about her, her mother is devastated and guilty. Where has she gone wrong, she is desperate to find out. Isabelle had love and affection, needed no money, and yet she turned into a prostitute. Ozon does not bother to give us answers.
Model and actress Marine Vacath is not just extraordinarily pretty, but also poised, carrying off a tricky part with confidence in her first ever leading screen role. And, the cameo by Ozon regular, Charlotte Rampling, who appears as the widow of one of Isabelle’s clients, offers encouragement to a girl who goes beyond sexual fantasising.
The film is wonderfully cast and written so delicately that it brings out the subtle nuances in the relationships within the family. Johan Leysen as Georges gives a great performance as the one client who has some kind of relationship with Isabelle.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic, who is now covering the Cannes Film Festival. He may be emailed at [email protected]