Sexual themes pervade much of the work by French filmmaker Francois Ozon. His most well known films, “8 Femmes” and “Swimming Pool,” delve into the lives of women and their internal desires. “Jeune et Jolie” carries a similar thread through its storyline, following a young girl who searches for fulfillment in a way that only her adolescent heart can ask for.
What was the catalyst for Jeune et Jolie?
Jeune et Jolie started with my desire to film the youth of today. And since I had just filmed boys, I wanted to film a young woman.
Isabelle is not just any young woman – she’s working as a prostitute.
The film is about what it feels like to be seventeen and experiencing the transformation of one’s body. Adolescence is often idealized in cinema. Our bodies go through intense physiological changes, and yet we feel kind of numb. So we assault our bodies in order to feel, we test our limits physically. The theme of prostitution provides a way to highlight this, to illustrate the questions of identity and sexuality raised by adolescence. Sexuality not yet connected to emotion.
Isabelle’s family is financially comfortable, so she’s not doing it for the money – what’s her motivation?
Isabelle isn’t turning tricks to survive or to pay for school, she feels a visceral need to do it. She could have just as easily gotten into drugs or become anorexic, as long as it was something secret, clandestine, forbidden.
Is Isabelle perhaps not so much exploring pleasure as she is confronting her absence of emotion, notably when she loses her virginity?
During a conversation with Marina de Van I got the idea of showing duality in the character at the critical moment of her deflowering. Boys and girls alike may experience an out-of-body sensation as they discover their sexuality. You’re both there and not there, actor and observer. That scene prepares the audience for Isabelle’s double life.
Teenage prostitution is a big issue right now. How did you approach this story without turning it into a sociological study?
I met with police officers who work with juveniles, others who specialize in new forms of prostitution, and psychoanalyst Serge Hefez, who works with troubled teens. I needed this material to confirm my hunches and enrich the film. But then I needed to detach from it and let fiction take over.
Isabelle’s father is absent but you don’t use that to explain her behaviour. Why?
This young woman is a mystery to me, too. I’m not ahead of her, I’m simply following her, like an entomologist gradually falling in love with the creature he’s studying. The idea is to accompany her, identify with her.
How did you approach the sex scenes?
Isabelle is on the receiving end of other people’s desire when she has yet to discover her own. In a certain sense it suits her that others feel desire in her place. I didn’t want to embellish reality, but in a sense, Isabelle may be doing that herself.
One client is different than the others: Georges…
Yes, Isabelle and Georges have a connection. Despite his age, Georges is very attractive, seductive, sexy. That’s why I chose Johan Leysen for the role. I wanted the audience to believe he could appeal to Isabelle. He has the physique of an American actor, like Clint Eastwood!
What led you to Marine Vacth for Isabelle?
The moment I met [Marine], I was struck by an impression of extreme fragility and at the same time, strength. Her face, the texture of her skin… there’s something going on beneath the surface. Her obvious physical beauty holds a mystery, a secret. It arouses our curiosity, we want to know more.
This is her first leading role.
And it’s a heavy role. We discussed it extensively beforehand, did readings and rehearsed with the other actors. The fact that she also models makes her very free with her body, which she uses like a tool.
How did you imagine the mother-daughter relationship?
This is not a story about a daughter taking her mother’s place. But Isabelle does have a diabolical side. We can see why her mother’s friend doesn’t want her husband to take her home.
Is Nathalie’s fear more about the mechanism of desire than Isabelle’s behaviour?
Absolutely. The idea that Isabelle could behave as a “whore” and contaminate everyone is mostly in the minds of those around her. She doesn’t think about it, but they do. Her beauty and her sensuality force them to confront the hypocrisy of their own desires.
It appears Isabelle is not angry at her mother for having a lover, so much as she is angry at her for keeping it a secret, not trusting her?
Adolescence is also a difficult period because children are discovering that their parents are not the heroes they thought they were, they’ve kept things from them, lied to them. Teenagers need truth, sincerity. They find out the world of adults is full of hypocrisy and lies, and they grow hostile toward these parents who have fallen from their pedestals.
When the mother hits her daughter, are we supposed to be more moved than shocked?
Parents who are at a loss for what to do or say to their sulking, withdrawn teenagers may quite naturally be pushed to lash out physically at them. As a mother, Geraldine agreed with this reaction but felt it was important for her character to immediately recognize the impulsive nature of her act and feel the need to apologize for it.
Tell us about the scene where the students recite, then comment on, the Rimbaud poem.
I hoped to capture the fragility and beauty of adolescence in that scene. I shot that scene like a documentary. I wanted to anchor my film in reality too, to hear the voices and viewpoints of these young people of today. Maybe to find out if they viewed the world the same way I did when I was seventeen.
Jeune & Jolie is out on Blu-ray and DVD on the 24th March 2014