Young & Beautiful

YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL written and directed by.

YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL written and directed by François Ozon, with Marine Vacth and Géraldine Pailhas. 95 minutes. A Mongrel release. Subtitled. Opens Friday (May 16). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN

François Ozon’s story of a 17-year-old high school girl who leads a double life as a prostitute – a junior Belle De Jour – is a baffling work, but that’s its strength.

As Isabelle’s (Marine Vacth) hormones surge, she dispenses with her virginity on a seaside vacation like she’s shedding a coat. Ozon films the scene as if Isabelle can watch herself in action (inaction, actually – she’s plainly not into it), suggesting the disassociation many have linked to sex work.

But it’s never clear why Isabelle returns home and starts piling up cash by turning tricks after school. Is it because her dad is absent, or to separate from her caring mom (a superb Géraldine Pailhas)? Does she relish her sexual power?

Told in four parts, each representing a season over a year, the movie has some charming grace notes: the loving relationship between Isabelle and her younger brother, a sequence in which Isabelle’s class discusses Rimbaud and a superb final scene featuring the great Charlotte Rampling.

But it’s Vacth, luminous yet steely and able to speak volumes with silence, who owns this movie.

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