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'Young & Beautiful' yet lacking in grace

A student's foray into prostitution has erotic pull, yet 'Young & Beautiful' is missing the human element

French writer-director François Ozon's moody, hypnotic drama "Young & Beautiful" is perhaps best described as a kind of teenage "Belle de Jour." In following the enigmatic path of a gorgeous 17-year-old student who becomes a high-end prostitute, Ozon keeps things simmering without quite boiling over, even when convention might demand it. It's a mostly effective approach that may leave some viewers a bit cold, but others entranced by the film's casual beauty and erotic pull.

Soon after she loses her virginity to a young German tourist, the impassive, quietly provocative Isabelle (Marine Vacth) starts meeting much older men, via the Internet, for paid assignations in their Paris hotel rooms. Why? Essentially, because she can.

It's a mixed bag of experiences for Isabelle. Some clients are worshipful, others degrading. But she takes it all in stride and squirrels away the euros. Meanwhile, she smoothly keeps her day job secret from her wary mother (Géraldine Pailhas), more relaxed stepfather (Frédéric Pierrot), inquisitive younger brother (Fantin Ravat) and best friend (Jeanne Ruff).

That is, until an unfortunate turn of events derails Isabelle's work-study program, and some hard truths come to light.

How Ozon handles the intersection of trust, honesty, self-esteem, parental guidance and teen sexuality, while also chipping away at a few adult misbehaviors swirling around Isabelle, proves intriguing even if his script never probes too deeply.

Frequent Ozon collaborator Charlotte Rampling ("Under the Sand," "Swimming Pool," "Angel") appears in a brief but tender turn as a pivotal character in Isabelle's outré journey. The veteran actress' late-breaking moments cap the film with a grace and humanity that's largely missing from what comes before.



'Young & Beautiful'

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes; in French with English subtitles

Playing: At Landmark's Nuart, West Los Angeles; also on VOD

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