Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Young & Beautiful, The Retrieval

Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie)
The Retrieval

Another pedestrian title, "Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie)," lines the marquee for French auteur François Ozon's latest halfhearted attempt at scandal.

17-year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacht) loses her virginity to a buff German dimwit the summer before senior year, an experience so dispassionate she figuratively steps outside her body to watch herself in the act. Upon her return to school, she begins turning tricks, meeting much older men in hotels and posing as 20-year-old Sorbonne student Léa. When one of the men dies in flagrante delicto, the cops (who consider her, because of her age, a victim) report everything to her incredulous mother, Sylvie (Geraldine Pailhas). I can't imagine what comment Ozon thinks he's making on female sexuality. Perhaps he's content merely to bask in Vacht's sensuousness. She's a beauty, but here, in a great-looking movie that plays like a 90-minute French music video from the 90's, as aloof and emotionally absent as a preoccupied model on the last day of a photo shoot.

In Chris Eska's intriguing indie "The Retrieval," a fatherless 13-year-old black boy named Will (Ashton Sanders) survives in the 1864 South working for a gang of white bounty hunters. He and his adult partner Marcus (Keston John) earn the trust of runaway slaves and lure them back to the South. One such mission involves a wanted freedman named Nate (Tishuan Scott). When an impromptu battle leaves Marcus dead, Will and the leery, soft-spoken Nate, a potential father figure to Will, end up alone together. Will must eventually decide whether to finish the job and claim his bounty, sacrificing Nate, or team up with Nate against the gang and the world. The story is potentially fascinating, and the film holds your interest throughout. I wonder, then, why it left me so cold. Maybe it's the spic-and-span digital video, which just looks too new for such a period piece. Or maybe it's the annoyingly slow performance of Sanders in the main role; each of several times he has to make a split-second decision, he seems to tear up and take five minutes to do it.

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