Jeune et Jolie:
Jeune & Jolie is a deceivingly pretty film about a seventeen year old girl named Isabelle (Marine Vacht) who, after losing her virginity to a holiday romance, begins to dabble in the very un-pretty world of prostitution. It presents a portrait, ‘over four seasons and four songs’, of a strikingly beautiful adolescent as she comes to terms with her sexuality.
By morning, she’s a literature student. By late afternoon, she’s a Parisian call girl. By evening, she’s acting like a typical teenager in the family home. However, Isabelle’s life takes a sharp turn when an unexpected event results in her mother (Geraldine Pailhas) finding out what she’s been up to.
Vacht spends most of the film unflinchingly nude and embroiled with older clients, yet Jeune & Jolie never attempts to tackle the issue of teenage prostitution. Initially, it’s a little bit disarming to be presented with such a stunning, seemingly sad girl in this position, without any explanation as to why. The viewer doesn’t get an explanation. In retrospect, it almost works that the film doesn’t aim to delve into the reasons why Isabelle has chosen freely to become a high class hooker, because there is no reason. There’s no real external cause for her behaviour. It just is.
If there was a reason for Isabelle to become a prostitute, you certainly won’t find it lingering in Vacht’s raw, almost expressionless performance. Her soft, overtly feminine features are stone-faced throughout, occasionally giving into a smile. She’s the definition of melancholy and as the films’ centre piece does a good job of holding the viewer’s attention throughout. However, her most memorable scenes are when she’s interacting with her younger brother (Fantin Ravat) and her mother. I was more interested in the interactions with her family than those with her clients.
The film looks cool, stylish, skilfully made and brilliantly put together. However, something about the film felt very empty. It works well as a pretty film. Sadly, for me, it didn’t work well as much more than that.
Cities of Cinema: Rome
Walking around Rome can feel like you’re on a film set – it seems as though there’s a screen-worthy backdrop around every corner, whether you’re gazing up at the Colosseum or wandering through the crowds at Piazza Navona. My obsession with the city’s celluloid moments led to the creation of a map of Rome’s film locations, , covering six very different movies which span the last 60 years; I then pounded the streets in search of these real-life backdrops. Here are some of the reasons I felt compelled to explore.
William Wyler’s Roman Holiday not only allowed Audrey Hepburn to shoot to stardom, but also made the city a must-visit for every woman from 1953 onwards who dreamed of being a princess and kissing Gregory Peck. Hepburn’s Princess Ann and Peck’s journalist Joe take a whistle-stop tour of the sights, whilst lying to each other about who they really are; the authenticity and the heart of the film really comes from their shared experiences, such as enjoying Italian gelato and dancing on a barge by the Ponte Sant’Angelo with locals. Though the film didn’t involve any shameless plugs by the Tourist Board (unlike Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, which received heavy funding) it unknowingly works like a series of irresistible postcards, showing the city at its best.
Whilst Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita is one of the most iconic films associated with Rome, as any of the souvenir shops can testify with their wide range of related stock, surprisingly few scenes were actually shot on location when telling the story of jaded journalist Marcello. Fellini may have been hugely inspired by the melee of celebrities and press hanging out around the Via Veneto, but he didn’t shoot there – instead, he turned to the magic of the studio. Equally, the scene where Anita Ekberg (playing sultry actress Sylvia) climbs the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica was recreated away from the landmark. However, the famous night scene in the water at the Trevi Fountain is completely authentic – the only trickery you can’t spot is that Marcello Mastroianni was wearing a wetsuit and had to down a bottle of vodka in order to prepare himself for the cold. Ekberg, in contrast, just got on with it. Surrounded at all hours by snap-happy tourists these days, it’s now difficult to imagine the Trevi being a passionate place, but Fellini managed to convey this.
Like Fellini, director Anthony Minghella wanted to show a dark side to the glamour and money of Rome with The Talented Mr. Ripley, but his focus was on Americans rather than Italians. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, it tells the story of underprivileged Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), who assumes the identity of the selfish Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). One of the most daring scenes takes place in a café by the Spanish Steps, where Ripley has to appear as both himself and Dickie at two separate meetings, without blowing his cover. Whilst the café was fictional, I was able to visit the real Spanish Steps, breathing life into my appreciation for the 90s film.
Cities of Cinema: Buenos Aires
In 2009 Juan José Campanella won a surprise Oscar for Best Foreign Language film for The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) beating both Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet to the prize. Campanella takes us back to Buenos Aires of the 70s, a terrifying time of political uncertainty where citizens are too scared to speak or to question the increasing numbers of their friends who disappear into the night, never to return. A film noir expertly acted by an A-List Argentine Cast, The Secret in Their Eyes does what all great urban Noirs do: turns the city into a character with alleyways dipped in black ink and shadows creeping up deserted streets like ivy on an old house. Another skilled Buenos Aires set crime drama, Nine Queens, rejects the tourist side of the city in favour of a gritty portrait of Buenos Aires. Plenty of handheld camerawork is used to capture the exploits of a couple of small time grifters trying to pull off a grand forgery involving the famous Nine Queen stamps. Smart, stylish and intelligent this Argentine crime caper can stand up to the best that The US has produced in the genre.
From the camp tango musicals of the 50s in I was Born in Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires a la Vista to the vital contemporary work of directors Raul Perrone and Lisandro Alonso, Buenos Aires continues to present the best Argentine cinema has to offer.
Cities of Cinema: Paris
The most romantic city on earth also happens to be one of the most iconic on the silver screen. Filmmakers from far and wide descend upon Paris in a continuous wave. Chic, very European and with more iconic buildings than Carla Bruni has plunging necklines. To the Hollywood machine it’s a pretty backdrop, somewhere to give American movies a certain je ne se qui. It’s actually interesting to look at the way American filmmakers shoot Paris. It’s almost always focused on the romantic nature of the place, with the beautiful old buildings, laced in ivy and the fashionable corner bistros. Cigarettes and black coffees all round. In camp MGM musicals like An American in Paris and Funny Face it’s all about the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, though in the latter there’s an unconventional scene that takes place in a beatnik philosophy bar, with Audrey Hepburn breaking out in freestyle jazz.
Paris is a city of culture and more than that it’s a city baked in the moving image. In Scorsese’s recent Oscar winning Hugo Paris is used as the backbone to tell the story of the birth of cinema. Thanks to the talents of the Lumiere Brothers at the turn of the 20thcentury that’s exactly what Paris is: the creation of cinema. The city comes to life in a magical triptych of glossy 3D. France has an enviable approach to cinema, placing it on the same pedestal as painting or sculpture. Specific laws are in place to protect French cinema against the dominance of Hollywood.
Watching Wes Anderson’s short Hotel Chevalier is a luxuries experience. Set in a 5 star Parisian hotel the intimate courtship dance between Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman is beautiful. The fact that you don’t actually see Paris until the final shot doesn’t make any difference, you know its Paris from the music, the colours, and just the whole feeling you get from watching it. Acclaimed director Oliver Assayas created a scuzzy vision of Paris in Irma Vep with Maggie Cheung, a movie that follows the film within a film narrative as Cheung skulks across the rainy rooftops of the city. It’s all lesbian bars and dominatrix shops. In Luis Buneal’s Belle de Jour with Catherine Deneuve Paris gets the surrealist touch. The city is painted in soft, pastel colours as we delve head first into the world of high class prostitution, silk sheets and dream-like fantasies. Only in Paris.