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"Young and Beautiful": The Budding Sexuality of France, for Sale 

Wednesday, May 7 2014

Ah, the French! Shamelessly marketed as an "erotic tale of sexual awakening," François Ozon's Young and Beautiful tracks four seasons in the life of lithesome 17-year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacth, whose mastery of Scarlett Johansson's doe-eyed blankness probably won't hurt her career one bit). She becomes a call girl when she discovers that not only do straight men really want to have sex with her, they'll pay for the privilege — and, though France's age of consent is 15, she tells her johns that she's 20. (The French are weird.) Though there are some deeper themes at work, especially Isabelle learning about the hypocrisies of adult society concerning sex and fidelity (a touchy-feely society where cheek-kissing is de rigueur, no less), the most consistent element is how much Ozon's camera loves Vacth. The nudity begins right after the credits as Isabelle's younger brother (Fantin Rava) spies on her sunbathing topless, and little is left to the imagination in her trysts; though beautifully shot, Young and Beautiful is also uncomfortably leering in a manner that, say, Lars Von Triers' more explicit Nymphomaniac cycle was not — never wanting us to forget just how youthful and nubile Vacth is. Could the same story have been told without all the nudity? Sure, but then again, that wouldn't be very French.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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