François Ozon’s “Young and Beautiful”: Summary and Analysis

This post includes a brief plot summary, an analysis and an explanation about the ending of the 2013 film “Young and Beautiful” (Jeune et Jolie). Beware of spoilers.


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What happens when a young woman’s hidden desires clash with societal norms? In “Young and Beautiful”, François Ozon invites the audience to witness a young woman’s clandestine exploration of her own sexuality and yearning for independence. The 2013 French drama film stars Marine Vacth as Isabelle, a 17-year-old who becomes an escort.

“Young and Beautiful” is a mesmerizing story of self-discovery that indulges itself in the enigmatic allure of the forbidden”.

During summer vacation, Isabelle loses her virginity to a random boy she met. But the experience falls short of her expectations, and the teenager decides to start a double life as a prostitute.

To her misfortune, one of her best clients (George) dies from a heart attack while they were having sex. Out of sheer panic, Isabelle storms out of the hotel room. Nonetheless, the police eventually find out about Isabelle’s illicit activities. The mother, Sylvie, is shocked and furious about her daughter’s secret life.

Given that Isabelle is still underage, the police decide not to press charges against her. However, Sylvie still decides to punish Isabelle by taking away the money she earned as a call girl. Meanwhile, Sylvie rushes Isabelle to seek therapy.

After George’s death, Isabelle changed her lifestyle quite a bit. She is now working as a babysitter and dating a boy named Alex. But soon after having sex, Isabelle dumps him. And just like that, the teenager is back to her “old life”. She activates her other SIM card and sees a message from Alice, George’s widow.

The ending of “Young and Beautiful” shows Isabelle meeting Alice at the hotel where George died. Since he’s been ill for a while, Isabelle didn’t cause his death. The widow informs Isabelle that she is aware of her husband’s escapades with other women and they fall asleep together. Isabelle awakens alone in the hotel room, but she is relieved.

“Young and Beautiful” concludes with an ambiguous ending. This is a fitting finale for a film that explores the intricate depths of human desire, innocence and adolescence.

After George’s death, Isabelle didn’t stop her illicit activities because of shame. Actually, she was ashamed, but it wasn’t for sleeping with men in exchange for money. Isabelle felt responsible for George’s death. If she hadn’t had sex with him, maybe he wouldn’t have died. That’s what she thought. However, George wasn’t in the best shape, he had health problems.

When Isabelle met Alice, she was finally able to understand what happened. Isabelle learned that George was ill. Therefore, she didn’t kill him, he would have died eventually of something else. In addition, the fact that Alice doesn’t despise her and understands why she prostitutes herself made her feel more relieved.

Reality hit Isabelle when George died. Due to their frequent encounters, George ended up being a little bit more than just a client. Isabelle started seeing him as someone’s father and husband. So in a way, when George died, she felt guilty for “taking him away” from his daughter and wife.

What about Alice? What did she get from meeting Isabelle? She got to see the last woman that George slept with. Alice knew about the affairs but didn’t do much about them. By the way, George might have a type: his wife. The melancholic eyes gave it away. So, it’s ironic that even when George is cheating on his wife, he’s looking for someone who looks like his wife.

The final scene of “Young and Beautiful” marks the closing of a cycle: there’s no more mystery about George. Alice and Isabelle now know about each other and they are getting along surprisingly well, given the circumstances that brought them together. Without the guilt, Isabelle wakes up more relieved, hence the jolly face.

Isabelle’s lifestyle choices, which deviate from societal norms, have consequently subjected her to significant judgement from both strangers and acquaintances.

“Young and Beautiful” effectively portrays the common fear among women of other beautiful women. Let’s take the reactions of other female characters, such as Sylvie and her friend, as an example. When they discovered Isabelle’s double life, two visceral reactions came out of them: first, shock, and then, disgust.

After the revelation of her “secret life”, many female figures in Isabelle’s life separated her into two: the child and the woman. They are fine with the first one because she is innocent and innocuous. However, they are terrified of the second one. This grown-up and sexualized version of Isabelle is “dangerous” because it can “take their man away”.

While Isabelle tries to stay to herself, her mother is the complete opposite. Actually, Sylvie is one of the biggest hypocrites in this story. She heavily condemns Isabelle’s decision, and yet she is a sinner herself.

After finding out her daughter’s double life, Sylvia quickly labelled Isabelle as an ungrateful brat. However, did it ever occur to her that Isabelle is the way she is because of her two failed marriages? Let’s look at the facts: Sylvie divorced her first husband and is now cheating on her second husband.

What kind of morals does Sylvie have to call her own daughter a whore? In reality, Sylvie is the immoral one for sleeping around. As a matter of fact, the daughter might have a better moral compass than the mother. At least she doesn’t pretend to be someone she is not.

In “Young and Beautiful”, Isabelle goes through a transformative character journey.

Maybe the silver lining in “Young and Beautiful” is that Isabelle is a rather optimistic person. She did not let a disappointing first-time deter her from further exploring her sexuality. Instead, Isabelle did the complete opposite.

Just like Sylvie, many cannot grasp why Isabelle, a high-middle-class “kid”, did what she did. Taboos aside, what was really Isabelle’s crime? The men who slept with her inadvertently committed a crime because she was still a minor. Other than that, was it wrong of Isabelle to charge money for sex?

Isabelle is at a weird age where she is not a girl but not yet a woman. She is somewhere in between. Also, there are a lot of things that she is still curious about, namely sex. However, Isabelle is not interested in the mechanics of sex, but in the fantasy behind it: having someone to pay to be with her.

While most women in Isabelle’s life do not dare to even contemplate the idea, that’s not the case for George’s widow. Alice, as an older woman, understands what Isabelle is doing and doesn’t reprimand her for it. As a matter of fact, she said herself that she would’ve done the same only if she were younger and bolder.

Many might blame Isabelle’s behaviour on “daddy’s issues”. Her parents divorced when she was really young and Isabelle rarely sees her father. However, why is it so difficult to accept that Isabelle just wanted to experiment with different sexual partners and get paid in the process? Her first sexual experience wasn’t much. In addition, Isabelle didn’t sleep with Félix because she liked him, she just wanted to get rid of it (her virginity).

Charging for sex is not immoral, it’s a social construction.

If sex was a service, wouldn’t it make sense to make people pay for it? By the way, prostitution was the perfect way for Isabelle to sexually experiment with several people and remain anonymous. Other than her clients, who would know that she was sleeping with that many people? Isabelle is a smart young woman, but she got caught.

At the end, Isabelle has no regrets about prostituting herself, that’s why she reactivates the other SIM card. Typical teenagers are into flirting, dating and partying, but that’s not Isabelle’s cup of tea. She prefers to charge people who want to be with her. However, after George’s death, Isabelle does try to have a regular life.

Earning money through a regular job and having a boyfriend worked for a while, but it wasn’t enough for Isabelle. There is a clear separation between sex and love. Ironically, the closest thing to dating that Isabelle had might’ve been those encounters at the hotel with George. That’s why she was so devastated by George’s death.

Final Thoughts

“Young and Beautiful” (Jeune et Jolie) is a film that pushes people’s buttons. First of all, the protagonist is a prostitute and a minor. Second, Isabelle doesn’t seem to have any regrets about being a prostitute. The only thing that really upset her during the whole ordeal was George’s death.

So, will Isabelle start seeing clients again? Probably. Alice was a client, but she didn’t pay Isabelle to have sex with her, she just wanted her company. Isabelle didn’t learn her lesson because there was nothing to learn. Just to recapitulate: Isabelle wanted sexual variety and she wanted money for fun, not because she needed it. In addition, Isabelle is “young and beautiful” and she charges because she can.

Overall, “Young and Beautiful” (Jeune et Jolie) is a very polarizing film. Some people will view Isabelle the way her mother does, while others will be less judgemental, like Alice. Having said that, the film raises a lot of interesting questions, often censored because of personal biases.