The teenage heroine of François Ozon’s seasonal French melodrama is very interested in pushing limits. When we first meet Isabelle (sublime newcomer Marine Vacth), she’s sunning naked on a beach. Later, she puts on a provocative amount of makeup (her pubescent younger brother calls her out on it) as she prepares to meet the German boy who will take her virginity and inadvertently set her on a path to prostitution. Summer segues into autumn, and our not-even-legal heroine is hiring herself out to older men. Ostensibly it’s to pay for school, though in her mind she’s really testing society’s bourgeois boundaries.
As with many films by the prolific Ozon (In the House), there’s an ephemeral quality to Young & Beautiful that makes it seem as if it were evaporating as you watch it. Many scenes play out with little resonance, fully formed on the surface—the “Summer” section has the lazy-days glow and melancholy of Eric Rohmer’s great Pauline at the Beach (1983)—but half-baked in toto. (The movie’s overall theme can be too easily boiled down to “’tis pity she’s a whore.”) Fortunately, a few striking sequences break up the tedium, such as a strobe-lit party where Isabelle struts around with brash confidence, as well as a terrific scene in which Ozon regular Charlotte Rampling lends some wisdom-of-the-ages regality to the otherwise forgettable proceedings.
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