We talk to director Fran

François Ozon’s latest film tells the story of Isabelle (Marine Vacth) as she turns 17. Not only is YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL a coming of age film, but it is an examination of adolescence, and the transition from childhood to adulthood. The film spans four seasons, beginning with summer, as Isabelle discovers love, sex and romance. We caught up with the director at the Cannes press conference for YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL, to find out more about Ozon’s views on adolescence, and his love for singer Françoise Hardy…

Why did you want to make a film about adolescence?
François Ozon: I hadn’t talked about adolescence for a long time. Some of my first films – the short films – were about the teenage years and after the film Under the Sand, when I met Charlotte Rampling, I worked with people who were slightly older and characters that were older. In The House, I worked with fairly young people and I wanted to do that again, that’s where this initial desire sprang from. Following that, I had the impression that in all French films, even in international films, adolescence is often highly idealised, it’s sublimated in a way. I have painful memories of my own teenage years, so I really wanted to deal with the topic once again, with a greater degree of maturity, experience and distance; I wanted to talk about this time in life differently. The idea was to show the portrait of a very contemporary young girl, she’s ageless in a sense because she might have been the same 20 years ago, or will be the same in 20 years time. I wanted things to be rooted in reality, my approach, at the same time, was quite impressionistic. I wanted there to be four seasons, four songs and I wanted to leave certain things out of the film, because I don’t have answers to everything. The young girl is quite a mystery and I wanted to share the mystery with the audience.

Given the topic, how did you manage to find the right distance, did you find this when you were writing the film, or while shooting?
FO: Work took places at all times during the film; during the writing, the shooting and during the editing as well. You decide to edit this or that scene; to stay close or far away from a character, that’s the way I go about my work. I always tend to leave some distance because I don’t want to give all the keys to the audience, I don’t want to underscore too many points. People are used to going to the cinema, they are used to seeing stories in the movie theatre, they can understand things by themselves; you don’t need to explain things too much. Of course, we haven’t left the audience out of the film; one can associate with certain characters in the film, particularly the parents. At certain points during the narrative of the film you shift to the viewpoint of the mother and the stepfather; the film even begins by showing the stance of the little brother. So you can view the character each time from a different angle.

Your leading lady, Marine Vacth, has played relatively small roles in her career so far. What did you see in her that made you cast her in such a major role?
FO: I did a lot of casting; I met with a lot of young girls between the ages of 16 and 20. I saw a lot of actresses, I did some tests; I like trying things out with the actresses. When I saw Marine I felt that she was different from the others; she was very realistic in the way that she portrayed the character. The character was very real. I had the impression that it was a documentary because she seems very realistic. What I liked with Marine is that suddenly there was something else that happened. There was the scene, she was answering the questions, but in her eyes I could see that there was a whole inner world; in fact, a mystery, and that is exactly what I was looking for in my film. My intuition told me that she was the right person. We discovered what worked well and we were able to discover the character together.

Can you talk more about the relationship between Isabelle and her younger brother?
FO: it’s important for the little brother to be there because he portrays childhood; she is still quite close to her childhood, but then she discovers a whole new world and she excludes her brother, perhaps to protect him. There was a scene I edited out, in which there was a more precise conversation between the two. I thought it was better, in the end, to exclude the little brother – even if he comes back at the end of the film – because she doesn’t want to share this with him. She has realised it is far too complicated for him to understand, even if he has understood the whole thing because he has fully caught on to what she does at school.

There is a lot of humour in the film, was this intended to give the audience a bit of distance from such a harsh topic?
FO: Well, when you are writing, you are not always aware that there is a lot of humour in the film. I didn’t want to make this into a comedy, obviously. There are times when things relax in the film; Marine shows the other characters that they are hypocritical, that they are steeped in lies too. The parents are very ill at ease with the character and the audience shares this kind of feeling. Life is made of funny moments and tragic times as well.

Can you talk about the music you use in the film?
FO: Françoise Hardy, I love her songs, I love her as a singer. I have used her songs many a time in my films; in Water Drops on the Burning Rocks and Eight Women for example. This struck me as perfectly obvious; Françoise Hardy is the singer who best embodied the tormented time of adolescence, the disappointment with love at the time of adolescence. For me, it was very easy to choose four songs from her list of songs. Of course, she always runs down her work, particularly the songs of the 60s. She would probably have wanted to me to use different songs.

Were Françoise Hardy’s songs a source of inspiration for the film?
FO: Yes, for example the scene where Isabelle has several customers, I hesitated a bit between two songs. There is one called Friendship that worked quite well, but it was very sad. The song I used struck me as much more powerful and a bit lighter; the scene is pretty heavy so this song inspired me for the scene with several clients who alternate. Then, of course there, were times of great intimacy. Françoise Hardy’s songs tend to be quite melancholic. It’s not just by chance.

Do you think melancholy is another way of reading the film?
FO: I think that when you are a teenager, you start being melancholic because it’s a time when you lose your illusions. You realise that love is not exactly what you had hoped; parental authority and what they have said may not be the truth, so this is a time when things start to fall apart. It’s quite violent because often childhood is fairly idyllic.

YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL is released in Irish cinemas on November 29th

Words: Brogen Hayes