The new controversial French drama "Young and Beautiful" has been creating a bit of a buzz on both sides of the Atlantic. Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.
"Young and Beautiful" is an art-house drama of sexuality that, for my money, has more resonance than either "Blue Is the Warmest Color" or Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac."
It tells the story of Isabelle, who’s your basic, blasé 17-year-old bourgeois Paris princess, except that when she loses her virginity, she feels nothing, and this propels her to begin the school season by hiring herself out as a high-end prostitute. She designs her own website and meets men after class, in hotels or in their cars, calling herself Léa and wearing a secretary's outfit and lipstick that makes her look perhaps 20 years old.
Is Isabelle doing this for the money? For the forbidden thrill? To get back at her nagging, though hardly unloving, mother? Or because she's damaged inside and is acting our her self-hatred by letting scuzzy middle-aged men have their way with her? The answer is all of the above, and none of the above. The filmmaker, Francois Ozon, refrains from explaining her, not because he's anti-psychology but because he's creating an almost journalistic drama for our time, a look at how a high school girl — in France, but it could be America, too — might choose to measure her worth in coldly consumerist terms. Isabelle is like an Internet-generation version of Catherine Deneuve in "Belle de Jour," or Maria Schneider in "Last Tango in Paris," only without a Marlon Brando. She's tangoing to her own narcissism.
The star, Marina Vakt, looks so much like a Euro-pouty fashion model that, at first, I feared she’d fall into that tradition of frozen-faced French ingenues who pass off their lack of expression as "mystery." But Vakt makes Isabelle tense and fascinating. When she begins to see Georges, a hawk-nosed charmer who must be 50 years older than she is, their ambiguous connection draws you in.
The level of sexual frankness in "Young and Beautiful" is no longer shocking, but Ozon, in his way, takes us back to an earlier art-house era. He has made a movie that Louis Malle or Francois Truffaut would have appreciated, an explicit look at how our humanity gets lost.