‘Happy hookers’ is an idea that has existed since prostitution began and in the case of Young and Beautiful, the hooker in question is underaged adding to the Frenchness and taboo of the subject, especially outside of France. It is an interesting idea, but whether it is worth seeing is another question entirely.
It’s directed by François Ozon, a director who I find interesting but don’t actually like all that much. Other than the whole underage prostitute aspect it’s a very typical French coming-of-age movie with an extremely pretty lead in Marine Vacth. She is the core of the film with everything built around her despite being rather underwritten, a problem which is common throughout which is rather unfortunate. She is a typical, spoilt, middle class teenager with a precocious younger brother and a family who spoil her and largely leave her alone while they are all on holiday, with holidays emphasised by splitting the film into four seasons. She decides she wants to have sex with the pretty German boy in the villa next door but she doesn’t enjoy it and therefore does the next logical thing of becoming a call girl. We, and the camera, follow her experiences. That makes up the vast majority of the film until the ending when one of her clients dies and she is found out, but she still likes the idea of being a prostitute. Charlotte Rampling wraps it up with one of the oddest odes to prostitution that I have ever seen. As with all these films, they are beautifully shot, everything looks really pretty and stylistically fitting.
The French have invented this little sub genre of prostitution movies. The best know is obviously Belle de Jour, which made Luis Buñuel and Catherine Deneuve household names. What made that movie more interesting was through making the prostitution secondary to her character’s mental state as well as some of the surrealism which Buñuel is best known for. That film also steadily raises the stakes for her character, providing a compelling reason to keep watching compared with the pretty but plotwise irrelevance of Young and Beautiful. The fact that her family isn’t all that bothered by her becoming an underage prostitute is what makes Young and Beautiful such a strange, impenetrable movie. It seems to forget that it needs to give something more and inevitably it peters out about an hour of the way through and doesn’t really go anywhere. In some respects it shares the same problem as some of Harmony Korine’s films. It’s fine doing something controversial but there has to be more than just the taboo subject. You will in all likelihood enjoy this film if you like French movies with pretty good dialogue, although the subtitles are actually quite inaccurate. It’s very pretty and it’s short, an interesting oddity of a movie.
Review by Harry Riedl