Another mille feuille (I should say onion, but the dessert is tastier and français)from French director, François Ozon. Last year, it was Dans La Maison (2012).
Opening scene: Summer vacation in France. At the beach, behind binoculars lenses found young and beautiful teenager girl taking off her bra, fully exposed. In the bush, her younger brother is holding the binoculars.
Observations: seeing may not be believing; no one really knows 100% what’s going on in other’s mind.
Interpretations and judgements: where we may make a mountain out of a molehill.
First off, drop your North American Christain values before entering the theater. I can tell you, it will be rated: R if it crosses the Atlantic. I also bet there will be a disclaimer saying the lead actress in the film, Isabelle( Marine Vacth), is of age (23) playing a teenager: such puritanism here.
Isabelle, a teen, is exploring her sexuality, and she turns 17 before the end of summer. While vacationing with parents and their friends, she meets a German boy, Felix(Lucas Prisor). Her brother, Victor(Fantin Ravat) is her confidant and wants her to share her sex tales, mostly she brushes him off, except until later, the conservation will be turned, i.e., she wants him to tell her his sex life. Parents are open and tease her daughter about Felix, almost encouraging her to experiment. Ozon gives us the stereotypical teen girl meets boy, summer night, street fair, ice cream, beach in darkness, girl first awful experience, boy victorious smile claiming another virginity.
It is Fall, the film continues with students reciting a poem, and discuss its meanings about young love. Everyone gives their own interpretation. The theme of teenager love is reinforced with a song. Such is the style of the film, the four seasons in the life of Isabelle, compliments with melancholy melodies for Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.
At Cannes Festival’s round table, he talked about the rise of internet and instant messaging and its significance in today’s teen culture. It reminded me of a social study saying that children were exposed to adult porn on average as early as 8 years old. Hence, this film in part is about accelerated sexuality and how easy connections expedite the experience.
I doubt Isabelle has chosen a lifestyle of prostitution. Instead, I must say she is quite an indepedent entrepreuner, and isn’t this what is wanted of today’s young girls? be independent, bring it on, be as aggressive as boys in pursuit of a career?
Here is one of those layers I talk about, and I am quite sure Ozon purposely used the police interview to show us the stereotypical views of the police: prostitution, pimp, rape, murder, money vs. Isabelle’s view of “don’t know why?”
Another layer is the examination of gender bias. Boys are allowed to experiment all they want, while girls are still being seen as whore if they do. Further in the dichotomy, the simple minded (primitive) brother Victor is visual, curious, and vouyeristic, while Isabelle is complex, exhibtionistic, guilt-ridden, excited, and shameful. In other words, the young female mind is in a constant ambivalent battle. No kidding, look at the messages the society are telling them to be: empowerment, take control, be virtuous, guard their pride, be beautiful but keep a distant, use condom, birth-control, but have babies before it’s too late… talking about confused mixed messages. Boys’ is more straight forward:HAVE FUN!
He didn’t stop there, Ozon also wanted us to look at the sexual dynamics from a mutli-generational perspective. I already talk about teenager love, the parents and their friends represent the 40 something career-driven couples’ cuddling and sexless lives, and Lea/Isabelle’s lover Georges the generation of the grandparents. In one scene, the therapist asks if Isabelle’s clients were his age (40-50), and she replies, “some, your father’s”. Interesting, isn’t it?
I also loved the primal fear expressed by the wife before the ride home with her babysitter, Isabelle: husband alone with a young and beautiful girl. In contrast, I doubt a middle-age man will constantly worry about his wife with a younger man. Such irony!
We will never know why Isabelle did it, or perhaps the right question to ask is do we need to?
The answer is whether we truly believe boys and girls are equal?! In other words, will we really care about a story where a boy selling his body to older women?! NO. (I remember most people cheered Brad Pitt’s J.D., when he meets up with Thelma(Geena Davis) and Louise Sawyer(Susan Sarandon), and has sex with Thelma.)
Now what if we change our lenses, instead a story about a middle-class boy selling his body to older men, like our Lea/Isabelle? I am sure I will get mostly dirty looks! In an instant, someone screams pedophile. Aren’t we quick to judge? based on kneel-jerk, and filtered by double standard. So is Lea/Isabelle still a prostitute? or she is how her step-father (Frédéric Pierrot) puts it: experimenting.
The ending of course, as usual, ends with more questions, and what film of Ozon doesn’t have his favourite actress, Charlotte Rampling, who plays Georges’s wife, the husband with best of deaths, i.e., while having sex. She lies side-by-side with Isabelle in the same room where her husband met his joyful death…
That’s why I like Ozon’s films, always thoughts provoking! I mean I haven’t even gone into the dynamics between mother and daughter, daughter and step-dad, mother and best friend’s husband, and teenagers party fully loaded with booze and lines of coke.
WATCH…if it ever gets distributed, especially in the US, which is rare.