Despite his superficial unpredictability from film to film, François Ozon’s work often examines sexual states of flux, especially among teens and young women.
His latest, Young & Beautiful, explores the world of Isabelle (Marine Vacth), a 17-year-old who loses her virginity and starts turning tricks a few months later. The film is organized in four sections, each tied to a season and ending with a Françoise Hardy song. In summer, Isabelle hangs out on the beach and has a casual fling with a German boy.
In autumn, she’s suddenly become a prostitute, a leap made in so jarringly elliptical a manner it would make Maurice Pialat proud. In winter, she quits hooking after a tragic incident. On the surface, Ozon makes no judgments about his heroine, but there’s an underlying moralism: While I’m not suggesting that he should condone underage prostitution, there’s something gratuitously cruel about the way the dangers of sex work rebound on one of her johns.
In any case, Young & Beautiful is more interesting once Isabelle’s secret is out, when it’s more about the way other people react to this prematurely jaded girl who seems to have stepped out of a Lorde song. Even so, Ozon’s storytelling feels awkward: The teenage boys Isabelle sleeps with are bigger ciphers than many of her johns, and the film eventually overexplains her decision to become a prostitute.
Still, the director is prolific enough that there’s no reason not to expect he’ll soon return to similar territory with a firmer grasp on his material.