REVIEW ROUND-UP: ‘Young & Beautiful’ & ‘The Bling Ring’ Bringing Sexy Back

The Bling Ring4000 miles away in Cannes, they’re 6 hours ahead of us in the east coast, which makes their “early morning” screenings something to both look forward to in the morning and torment us when we sleep. Of course if there’s a current master of playing sexual games with the cinema, it may be Francois Ozon. He’s already released one of the more fascinating, funny, and enticing films of the year with In the House, so a showing at Cannes couldn’t hurt, could it?

So does Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful) make it two-for-two in 2013?

@erickohn: Ozon, in quieter mode, with alternately sweet & naughty YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL. Slight but anchored by strong lead performance.
@robbiereviews: an authentically puzzling account of nascent sexuality. Loved that it withheld the answers.
@gemko: Character study of teen hooker inititally seems banal, but banality proves to be its secret weapon.

Jeune et JolieThis sounds like the kind of silent warrior that shows at Cannes before stealthily maneuvering its way to year-end top 10 lists. Catherine Bray of Film4 was quite taken with Ozon’s wit, both in dialogue and plot manipulations.

Films like this always walk an incredibly fine line between being that rare thing, a character study focussed firmly on a female character, and drifting into the screen equivalent of badly-written erotica. Jeune et Jolie is, to be sure, a sexy film, and will find itself accused of – quelle horreur! – slightness, but the self-aware humour Ozon locates in the most unlikely places goes a long way to reclaim it from the ranks of those self-important journeys of erotic self-discovery screened after the watershed with which the middle classes used to have to make do before the internet. Yes, it’s young and beautiful – but it’s also smart, engaging and retains the ability to wrong-foot the audience delightfully right up to a delicious closing cameo from Ozon alumna Charlotte Rampling that almost risks gilding the lily.

Davey Jenkins of Little White Lies was much less taken with the film’s evasiveness.

The overriding emotions in Young And Beautiful are torpor and apathy, and in the end, Ozon’s insouciant side-stepping of the social issues makes it clear that he has no interest in offering solutions to the “problem” of teen prostitution, more that he’s offering us the base material and asking us to draw our own conclusions. It’s ambivalent stance towards prostitution may make lend it some hot button credo, as there are those who might bemoan that it soft-pedals the horrific realities of going on the game, and there are also those who might say that it offers a measured and admirably unhysterical take on its simple feasibilities.

Allan Hunter of Screen Daily may have less to say, but he says it with great admiration of Ozon’s sleight of hand.

Ozon handles troubling material with absolute discretion; the sex scenes are necessary rather than gratuitous and the audience is invited to make their own judgments on what Isabelle has done and what it has meant for her. The fact that she is spared any violence or danger lends a fairytale feel to a film in which Sleeping Beauty is perfectly able to take charge of her own destiny.

The Bling RingLooks like Ozon’s got another tantalizing conversation piece on his hands. He’s certainly playing more explicitly with sexuality than Sofia Coppola’s latest, The Bling Ring. Not nearly as erotic as obsessive photos of Emma Watson might hint, as Cath Clarke of TimeOut London notes in her review.

Much creepy attention has been lavished on photos doing the rounds of Emma Watson pole dancing (Hermione’s legal!) in ‘The Bling Ring’. But the real story here isn’t the good-girl-goes-bad stunt casting; it’s that Watson can act. Against the odds, the Harry Potter star gives a sharp, knowing smart performance as Nicki, one of a gang of spoiled rich Californian brats robbing the houses of celebs who, like, totally deserve it. Directed by Sofia Coppola (‘Lost in Translation’, ‘Marie Antoinette’), this is a funny, sarky, bang-on portrayal of the freakiness of celeb obsession. The story would sound outrageous – if it wasn’t true.

Scott Foundas at Variety found the film to be “a spiritual sequel of sorts” to The Social Network.

When future generations want to understand how we lived at the dawn of the plugged-in, privacy-free, Paris Hilton-ized 21st century, there will likely be few films more instructive than “The Bling Ring.” A spiritual sequel of sorts to “The Social Network,” Sofia Coppola’s fact-based tale of the 2008-09 crime spree by a gang of enterprising SoCal teens targeting the homes of high-profile celebrities reps a return to more pop, accessible filmmaking for the “Lost in Translation” auteur following the austere “Somewhere” (which earned only $1.7 million domestically). Though it lacks the name cast and self-consciously outre style of another recent girls-gone-wild opus, “Spring Breakers,” this lively and fascinating pic should score well with its target hipster demo, delivering solid arthouse numbers for upstart distrib A24, which plans a June release Stateside.

Guy Lodge of In Contention also does well to note easy parallels with Spring Breakers, but says that Coppola’s vision is more appropriately critical of its protagonists actions than Harmony Korine’s.

I’m sure I won’t be the only critic to suggest that “The Bling Ring” would make a handy double-bill with Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” another sexily constructed film that casually remodels the American Dream via a girls-gone-wild narrative. I suspect, however, that such a pairing would flatter Coppola’s film, which steers more successfully clear of complicity with problematic onscreen escapades. Much of the film’s expensive Top 40 soundtrack is deliberately filtered through tinny speakers. Working with two ace cinematographers in the late Harris Savides (who passed away during production) and his successor Christopher Blauvelt, Coppola cleverly keeps the lighting flat and the compositions practically closed-circuit in their distance, laying bare the characters’ world without ever openly inviting us into it.

Couldn’t get out of talking about The Bling Ring without mentioning it as Harris Savides’ last film as cinematographer. In any case, I expect The Bling Ring will be quickly questioned by those who don’t see any dimension in it. God forbid Coppola actually shows teens a dirtier side to themselves!

PREVIOUS CANNES ROUND-UPS:
Heli (Dir. Amat Escalante)

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  • Awesome round-up, Duncan. Having had mixed feelings about both MARIE ANTOINETTE and SOMEWHERE, my expectations for THE BLING RING are tempered, but these reviews may have just notched them up a bit.

    • It sounds like ‘Bling Ring’ is more satirical than her prior films, which may work to her benefit as far as critical appeal is concerned.

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