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Investigating Modern Sexual Discovery: François Ozon on "Young & Beautiful"

Interviews
by Carlos Aguilar
April 23, 2014 12:00 PM
2 Comments
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Marine Vacth and Dir. François Ozon

Accessibility can easily distort healthy curiosity. It is no secret that the overload of archetypical sexual images in all fronts of mass-appealing media manipulates the desires and perceptions of those more sensitive to such stimuli. Adolescents get a crash course in sexuality through whatever they can access online and the expectations pop culture has implanted in them. This massive amount of information - not often productive nor accurate - has shaped a generation for whom pornography is at their fingertips. For audacious French director François Ozon, this idea of a widespread availability of sexual images has incredible potential for dramatic exploration. His films are known for taking intimate stories and permeating them with greater ideas about death, family, love, and, of course, sexual desire.

The latest film in his oeuvre Young & Beautiful, premiered last year in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and it deals a girl who fully embodies the eponymous adjectives. Her obsession is earning money by selling her body, her reasons? Sheer fondness for risk perhaps, or maybe a rare journey into self-discovery. Starring Marine Vacth, this is a film that fits right in with Ozon’s previous work, and one that, despite its premise, still has something unique to say about carnal pleasure in exchange for cash.

Carlos Aguilar: What originated the initial idea for this film about a 17-year old girl who willingly becomes a prostitue?

François Ozon: The film I did just before, In the House, was about young people, and it was a great pleasure to work again with young actors. I wanted to work with young actors again but in the case of this film the story is about a girl. After working with boys, I wanted to make a portrait of a young girl of today. That was the first idea. I tried to show what could be the discovery of sexuality for a young girl today. I think she is very different from the young people of my generation. I was interested in doing some research about today’s youth, specially girls, who have the opportunity to see sex everywhere, like on the Internet. Today it is easy to see it everywhere, so I wanted to tell a story about this subject.

Aguilar: What kind of research did you do? What did you want to investigate?

Ozon: I met many policemen who specialize in young people working in prostitution, and I met many psychiatrists. I had several conversations with them. I also met young people, and I realize that the discovery of sexuality was different from my own discovery of sexuality. Because when I was 15 or 16 it was quite difficult to see pornographic images. Today, it is very easy for any child to see this kind of images. I wanted to know what could be the effect on young people to have these images in front of them very easily.

Francois Ozon

Aguilar: Besides dealing with your characters’ sexual desires, your films often deal with families, their secrets, and their relationships. What attracts you to family-related stories?

Ozon: It’s a good question [Laughs]. I think for me to speak about family is a way to speak about society. Family is the center of life. I’m always fascinated by the relationships in families. They are very complex; they are full of ambiguity, full of hate and of love. It is very interesting. There are so many feelings and ideas to show in a film. I think my first movie was very aggressive against family, but I believe with time I’ve understood that family is important even if you hate your family. You need your family to develop your personality and to develop yourself as a person.

Aguilar: Prostitution is often shown as way in which women are victimized. However, in “Young and Beautiful”, your protagonist Isabelle obtains a certain kind of power that makes her feel in control.

Ozon: Yes, totally. I was quite surprised that some feminists attacked the film because it is the story of a woman who has total power. She decides by herself what she wants to do. She wants to have the power and she is not a victim. She doesn’t do this for financial reasons. She does it because she wants to do it. I think maybe that’s what is shocking for some people. I believe this girl is very naïve because she thinks she will discover her sexuality via prostitution, she feels it is not dangerous, when actually it is. She will discover that in the film. She thinks she has control, but then she realizes that she doesn’t have control of anything. It is not because you get money that you have the power.

Aguilar: What is very interesting about your film is that it doesn’t end when the secret is revealed. It goes on to deal with the consequences and how this affects her family dynamic.

Ozon: It was important for me at that moment in the film to change the point of view, to see the point of view of the parents. I had the feeling that you never see that in film, how it can be disturbing for parents to see their children becoming adults and discovering their sexuality. For parents, when you love your children it is very difficult to admit they are sexual beings and they won’t always be the little children you think. It is always a shock, not only in an extreme case like this where one of your children is involved in prostitution. Even in reality, in a normal family, when the children begin to be sexual, it is always disturbing and shocking for parents because you are always afraid for them. I wanted to show that side of things in the film.

Aguilar: I’m certain it was crucial for you to find an actress that could exude sensuality, elegance, naiveté, and be able to be seductive in a delicate manner.You definitely seem to have found her in Marine Vacth.  

Young & Beautiful

Ozon: It was very important because I wanted to show a girl who doesn’t have financial reasons to do this, she is beautiful. I wanted to show this girl like a mystery, you don’t understand at first why she does this. She doesn’t need to do that, but she still does. I had in mind the character of Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. People are always shocked when they see someone so beautiful working in prostitution, because prostitution is considered degrading, so it is quite shocking. Having many discussions with psychoanalysts, there was one that told me something really interesting; he said “I had a young girl whose beauty was something too hard to carry, a burden for her. Beauty can be something difficult to cope with” It is not usual, but he said some of these girls want to go with these dirty old men because their beauty is too much too heavy to carry. They don't want to be humiliated, but they want to feel normal.

Aguilar: How difficult was it to get her into that character? She proves to be a fearless young actress. 

Ozon: It was very interesting because she is a young actress, but she is very mature. She understood everything very quickly. She had no problems with the sex scenes because she was a model before, so she was used to working with her body. It was quite easy. I was very lucky to find her because she is so gorgeous, it was a pleasure to work with such a beauty in front of your camera. I knew it would be very heavy to carry as a part, so we did many readings and many rehearsals before the shooting to help her become comfortable during certain scenes.

Aguilar: The music in the film seems very carefully selected. It added a playful undertone. How did you go about choosing it?

Ozon: The songs from Francoise Hardy are very famous in Frances. She is an icon here, it is said Mick Jagger and David Bowie were in love with her back then [Laughs]. These are songs from the 60s, which are very romantic and very well-known to be songs about teenage love. It was quite ironic to use these songs with this story. I like the effect created when you don’t choose exactly the expected music, but you wait with the scene. It is interesting to create this kind of contrast between the images and the music.

Aguilar: Several films about female sexuality have been released recently, most notably Nymphomaniac, Blue is the Warmest Color, and of course your film. Do you feel this is an effort to portray women more like actively sexual beings and not just objects of desire?

Ozon: I don’t know. The funny thing is all the directors of these films are men [Laughs]. I’m waiting for a woman to do a film about female sexuality, because Lars von Trier, Abdellatif Kechiche, and I, we are men, so it’s our vision. It would be interesting to now see a female director making a film about this. It would be very interesting to see if there are many differences.

Marine Vacth

Aguilar: One particular scene in your film that I find rather thought provoking, is when she has this conversation with the psychologist abut her motives.

Ozon: She explains to the therapist that what excited her was not the sex. It was the fact that she could imagine everything that would happen before it did. She imagined the hotel, she imagined the client, she imagined what she would be doing, all while doing the appointments by telephone. It was the anticipation of what would happen. What actually happens doesn’t interest her. It is in a way like in many of my films, in which imagination is more exciting than the facts.

Aguilar: I wanted to share with you a personal anecdote related to one of your film. When I was about 14, your film Swimming Pool had just been released. Because of my age at the time I wasn’t allowed to see it. So I went to the theater and bought a ticket for another movie, and once inside I sneaked into the theater playing your film. I just had to see it, I was curious. Why do you think young people are fascinated and attracted to what’s forbidden, especially when it comes to sexuality?

Ozon: You should have come live in France; you would have been allowed to see more films at a younger age [Laughs]. I think this is what it means to discover sexuality. We want to learn, we are excited, we have some new desires and we don’t know exactly what we feel. I think it’s important to read some books or to see some films, because it can sometimes help you learn exactly where your desire is, what you want or what excites you. I don’t think young people have to see porn movies, but sometimes erotic movies or books about sexuality can help you recognize something you feel in your body or your mind. What am I?, do I like men or do I like women? Sometime it is very helpful for young people with a different sexuality to recognize they are not alone, they can see the same desires in a film or a book.That is always important. It is also very exciting to see forbidden things. When I was a teenager, like you, I was more excited to see a forbidden film than a film by Walt Disney. [Laughs]

Young & Beautiful will play at COLCOA in L.A. on April 24th, and opens theatrically in New York on April 25th

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2 Comments

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  • sunny | April 26, 2014 6:04 AMReply

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